The Debate around the Indigenous Voice to Parliament debate is having a negative impact on the mental health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

Gamilaroi/Gomeroi man and the Director of First Nations Strategy and Partnerships at the Black Dog Institute, Clinton Schultz told NIRS News that the debate is taking a toll on First Nations communities, causing significant conflict and anguish.

“What we’ve definitely noticed and what has been reported, and what we’re noticing in the field is an increase in experiencing psychological distress among our First Nation’s people and communities.”

He says there is the potential for more anguish regardless of the outcome of October’s referendum.

“If it comes through as a no on the day I think the immediate experience for many First Nations people will be one of overwhelming rejection from Australian society, and I think that has the potential to be very damaging to the social and emotional well being of many First Nation’s people.

In saying that, I also believe if it comes through as a ‘Yes’ and if things don’t turn out the way we hope they will moving forward, and we don’t see the improvements that people keep talking about, that there will be a prolonged process of people’s social and emotional wellbeing being disturbed through feeling left down.”

Dr Shultz has also been in Canberra this week with a cohort of psychologists, speaking with politicians to get them to do the impossible, have a respectful debate in parliament.

“I think at times on both sides of politics that people have forgotten that their are human beings at the center of this debate, and at times things have become quite directed at individuals and personalised.

I don’t think that is a healthy way to undertake a debate that’s supposed to be about 600,000 Australians and our future.”

So far the pledge has received support from Labor, Greens and cross benchers, including Indigenous Affairs Minister Linda Burney and senator Malarndirri McCarthy.

Dr Schultz says the Coalition declined to meet and discuss the pledge.

The pledge also comes at a time were racial abuse has seen a noticeable increase in the lead up to the referendum.

In a statement E-Safety Commissioner Julie Iman Grant says the debate needs to become more respectful.

“In addition to formal reports to eSafety, we’re also hearing from community stakeholders that online abuse is ratcheting up as we approach the referendum.

All of us, irrespective of our position, need to discuss and debate this issue respectfully,
without stooping to slurs, racist remarks, hate speech or abuse.

“And of course, the online industry must do more to prevent all forms of abuse happening on their platforms by fairly and consistently enforcing their own terms of use and take meaningful action against accounts that continue to abuse others.”