The rate of happiness among young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men is so low that as many as 10 percent rate theirs at zero out of 10 when compared to their non-indigenous youth, a new report shows.
The report by Mission Australia shows Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth are reporting higher levels of concern about issues such as bullying, suicide, drugs and alcohol. The report calls for a fundamental shift in Indigenous youth decision making that puts young people at its centre.
The report also showed 5 percent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young women rated their happiness at zero. Comparatively, just 1 percent of non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander respondents rated their happiness at this level.
Writing for The Huffington Post Australia, Mission Australia CEO Catherine Yeomans said the report shows the country needed to find a more inclusive and consultative way of working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people.
"It's a sad, but perhaps not surprising, read," Yeomans wrote.
"While we see young people sharing many of their aspirations for further education and employment, the report provides further evidence that Indigenous young people are facing many more serious challenges than their non-Indigenous peers.
"We need to empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations, and develop meaningful partnerships at the national, regional and community level between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and organisations and non-indigenous ones."
The report showed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people were also more likely to have spent time away from home in the past three years because they felt they couldn't return.
- One quarter of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people reported high levels of personal concern about depression, and around one in five reported high levels of concern about suicide
- Comparatively one in five non-Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander young people indicated high levels of concern about depression and around one in ten reported high levels of concern about suicide.
- One in 10 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males (10.1 percent) indicated their happiness was '0', compared with 4.8 percent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander females.
- Just 1.2 percent of non-Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander respondents' reported such low levels of happiness.
- More than half of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people reported having moved house in the past three years, while about a third of non-Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander young people reported the same.
Source: Mission Australia
Writing a forward to the report, University of Canberra Chancellor and Co-Chair of Reconciliation Australia, Tom Colma AO, said if Australia is serious about 'Closing the Gap', it needs to "get serious" about providing equal opportunities for our young people.
"To achieve substantial and sustainable change Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people, elders and organisations need to be involved in the design, delivery and evaluation of programs intended to benefit them," he wrote.
"Governments, community organisations and businesses need to play their part in building relationships and working towards a reconciled, just and equitable Australia."
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth face particular challenges related to the impacts of intergenerational trauma, disconnection from identity, racism and social exclusion, alongside experiences of dislocation from land which "can manifest as a sense of grief and loss which is passed on from generation to generation."
They may also experience trauma though "bearing witness to the past traumatic experiences of their family and community members as a result of colonisation, forced removals and other government policies," the report said.
"This trauma can interrupt normal child development and have wide ranging effects on the physical, physiological, emotional, mental and intellectual development of children, which can last into adulthood and be detrimental to their health and wellbeing outcomes later in life," it said.
The report is based on the responses of 18,727 respondents in Mission Australia's 2015 Survey. Of these, 1,162 identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander.
- About three in ten Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people reported having spent time away from home in the past three years because they felt they couldn't return
- This compares to about one in eight non-Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander young people had spent time away from home due to feeling unable to return.
- More than one third of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people who had spent time away from home reported having done so at least ten times over the past three years.
- Just under half of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people reported typically spending at least one week away from home
- One in five reported spending more than six months away from home on each occasion.
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people were more likely than non-Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander young people to identify homelessness/housing as an important issue facing Australia currently.
Source: Mission Australia
Colma on Wednesday said there could be a substantial differences if Indigenous involvement in decision making was increased.
"I think this is across the board in Indigenous affairs and in many areas of public policy. We have bureaucrats who believe that they have the answers," he told the ABC.
"We have politicians who aren't interested in looking at the research and the evidence that's out there but making decisions that may be based on their view of economics and looking at the whole of Indigenous policy and general policy within the time frame of an election cycle, and we have to get beyond that and start to look long term."
The report comes as a Royal Commission into Indigenous Youth Incarceration gets underway in the Northern Territory.
Earlier this month plans for a referendum on Indigenous recognition in the Australian constitution to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the landmark 1967 vote on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights were dashed, after the referendum council said a consultation report would be delayed until mid-2017.
Last month a report showed the Indigenous suicide rate in the Kimberley was more than seven times Australia's average in 2011, with 74 suicides per 100,000 in the Kimberley compared to 9.9 per 100,000 across Australia.