There are a lot of people doing it tough in this latest COVID outbreak in Victoria. When we see these new outbreaks emerging there is an increase in fear. There is an increase in anxiety. There is a real impact on our mental health and wellbeing.
We have to continue to look after one another. We have to keep getting the basics right. Wearing a mask. Social distancing. Getting tested if we feel unwell.
Last year, we had 74 cases in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community during Victoria's second wave - it was a very tough time - but we worked together and we got through it.
This year however it appears that we are dealing with a much more contagious strain than we saw last year - so we have to be even more diligent.
I am very pleased with the incredible work the Rumbalara team have done and are continuing to do in Shepparton to set up a drive-through COVID-19 testing site so members of our community can be tested in a safe manner.
I am incredibly pleased with the great work 17 of our Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations have done to assist with administering the vaccine.
As of July 30, more than 42 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people older than 16 years of age in Victoria had had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. To have this strong uptake is a credit to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community - and a credit to our hard-working staff at ACCHOs across the state who have worked tirelessly to deliver the vaccine in a timely manner.
They also play a crucial role protecting and advancing the mental health and wellbeing of community.
One of the main things lockdowns do is accentuate many of the disadvantages already experienced by our people - disadvantages that culminate in a significant life expectancy gap.
Lockdowns certainly highlight social determinants of health and inequities in several spaces.
One simple example is home schooling. Young people may not necessarily have equitable access to IT equipment, or high-speed internet connections.
This can have an adverse impact on a young person's education - and lead to them falling behind. This can contribute to shame and heighten stress which can have a major impact on a young person's mental health and wellbeing.
A lot of our young people are doing it tough for a number of reasons. It could be COVID - it could just be any number of things life throws up. My message to young people is to reach out and ask for help.
For too long, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have fallen through the cracks of a fragmented and culturally unsafe mental health system.
The Royal Commission into Victoria's Mental Health System recommended that VACCHO establish and host a new Centre of Excellence for Aboriginal Social and Emotional Wellbeing.
This will be a major step towards putting in place evidence-based, culturally-appropriate and outcome-focused responses across the state. The way I see this centre is that it aims to bring together Aboriginal ways of healing with modern day medical practices. I believe it is important for our younger generation to be highly educated in formal education, but of greater importance is having a strong knowledge and understanding of their cultures and how they apply the Aboriginal way of knowing, being and doing.
One of the most important things we have to do during these tough times is stay connected and look after each-other.
Don't try to do it tough by yourself - have a yarn to your family, talk to your friends.
Face-to-face contact is such an important part of our culture - but we have to be innovative. I've been teaching my Mum how to do video calls - and she is 95 years old.
Your local Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation is always there for you - reach out. The Yarning Safe N Strong Hotline is available to support you 24-7 on 1800 959 563.
Don't do it tough by yourself. Stay connected. Let's look after each other.
Jill Gallagher is chief executive of the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO).