The need for a roadmap to guide actions for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adolescent health: youth governance as an essential foundation

Seth Westhead, Quinton Appleby, Brittney Andrews, Tina Brodie, Alex Brown, Karla Canuto, Josh Cooke, Mahlia Garay, Thomas Harrington, Djai Hunter, Corey Kennedy, Jaeda Lenoy, Olivia Lester, Hannah McCleary, Odette Pearson, Lorraine Randall, Rachel Reilly, Hamish Rose, Daniel Rosendale, Jakirah TelferPeter Azzopardi

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Adolescence (10–24 years of age) is now recognised as a key developmental window for the health of individuals, their communities and the next generation.1 One-third of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (Indigenous) population in Australia are adolescents,2 and our earlier work has shown that Indigenous adolescents have distinct health needs largely unmet by existing policies and services.3 Fundamentally, adolescence is a dynamic developmental phase characterised by transitions in the social and cultural determinants of health –— key targets for addressing health inequities experienced by Indigenous Australians. For these reasons, adolescent health is a core focus for health policy and action, not only for Indigenous peoples but all populations.
While there has been work to establish a policy framework for Australia’s young people, there is no national strategy for Indigenous adolescent health.4, 5 As a result, investments to date have been limited, reactive and fragmented. Efforts have been siloed around health issues including sexually transmitted infections,6 social and emotional wellbeing,7 youth suicide,8 rheumatic heart disease,9 and risk behaviours including substance misuse.10 However, these foci are inadequate given the persistent high rates of potentially avoidable mortality; unintentional injury (a key driver of adolescent mortality) is a notable gap.3 Additional policy gaps relate to the health needs of Indigenous 10–14-year-olds, including the excess burden of sexually transmitted infection, injury, substance use, and poor mental health (including self-harm and suicide). Young adolescents typically cannot access youth services independently and have needs beyond those currently provided for in paediatric services. Further, many existing efforts focus on diseases and risks amenable through the health system, too narrow a focus to address needs largely driven by complex social and structural determinants. More than one-third of Indigenous adolescents report high rates of psychological distress, a symptom of systemic racism and discrimination, intergenerational trauma, and associated socio-economic deprivation. While responsive health services play a critical role, broader investments in health promotion and prevention are also required.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-15
Number of pages3
JournalMedical Journal of Australia
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished or Issued - 4 Jul 2022


  • Adolescence
  • Health policy
  • Population health
  • Population policy
  • Public policy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)

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