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  • Writer's pictureJacqui Grant

Mental Health - Mental Health in Indigenous Culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders

Connect and Grow Magazine - Edition 10 June - July 2024

When we think of mental health, many people often think about all the main mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and bipolar. Often we forget to look at the impact of mental health on different cultures.


Mark has another great article for us this month; I found it interesting!


Everyone deserves to be happy and enjoy a quality life!

The indigenous culture of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is among the oldest surviving human cultures in the world. Their rich history predates European expansion in the 1700s, and long before the British settlements, Australia was estimated to have over 260 distinct languages(Salmon et al., 2018).


According to Smallwood et al (2020), the effects of colonialization on the health and wellbeing of Indigenous communities across the world is widespread and have been compared by some to ethnic genocide, war, mass murder, forced labour, displacement and forcible removal of children all contributing to an almost entire extinction of Indigenous community and identity in some areas. Only recent mainstream recognition of the impact of this has allowed for research and, subsequently, a greater understanding of the relationships between trauma caused by colonisation and the burden of disease, poverty and disadvantage experienced by Indigenous peoples.


Regarding our understanding of the impact of historical trauma, comparisons can be made to the survivors of the holocaust and our understanding of transgenerational trauma. We know there is a direct link between historical trauma and physical and mental health today. We know that there is a link between historical trauma faced by Indigenous ancestors and the poor health outcomes and negative experiences faced by the Indigenous peoples of today (Smallwood et al. 2020).


Specifically, in Australia, the inequalities in access, the disparity in health outcomes and the negative impact on health, social, economic and cultural aspects of Indigenous communities are well documented. In 2008, the Australian government introduced ‘Closing the Gap’, a framework designed to reduce the disadvantages across multiple factors, including health, education, life expectancy and employment (Wright et al., 2020). Whilst this ambitious and well-meaning framework has largely been adopted, there have been ongoing failures to make any progress, particularly for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (Wright et al, 2020).


Goetz et al. (2022) find that in Australia, Indigenous populations have a reduced likelihood of receiving professional help for mental health issues and instead are more likely to utilise informal support. Furthermore, other obstacles to receiving professional treatment include cultural factors (traditional approaches to mental health may differ between Western medicine and aboriginal culture) and mistrust of mainstream services (a direct result of transgenerational trauma), as well as experiencing shame and stigma (with lack of education, awareness and total ignorance of health disparity within the non-indigenous populations).


Traditions of culture are important for mental health of Indigenous communities.


To improve mental health outcomes for Indigenous communities, it is important to acknowledge and take into consideration the historical and cultural contexts. As a society, we need to understand the contemporary issues that address current inequalities in mental health and challenge mainstream services to do better. It is shameful that no progress was made in closing the gap framework. We must continue to collect data and present statistics and research on the higher prevalence of mental health illness within Indigenous communities.

We must continue to strive to improve access to mental health services by fighting systemic racism, discrimination and other barriers to access whilst fully embracing a collaborative approach emphasising the importance of partnering with aboriginal leaders who can guide and shape our services to provide culturally sensitive care and culturally safe treatment to those who need it most.






Goetz, C. J., Mushquash, C. J., & Maranzan, K. A. (2022). An Integrative Review of Barriers and Facilitators Associated With Mental Health Help Seeking Among Indigenous Populations. Psychiatric Services, 74(3).


Salmon, M., Skelton, F., Thurber, K. A., Bennetts Kneebone, L., Gosling, J., Lovett, R., & Walter, M. (2018). Intergenerational and early life influences on the well-being of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children: overview and selected findings from Footprints in Time, the Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Children. Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease, 10(1), 17–23.


Smallwood, R., Woods, C., Power, T., & Usher, K. (2020). Understanding the impact of historical trauma due to colonisation on the health and well-being of Indigenous young peoples: A systematic scoping review. Journal of Transcultural Nursing, 32(1), 59–68.


Wright, M., Crisp, N., Newnham, E., Flavell, H., & Lin, A. (2020). Addressing mental health in Aboriginal young people in Australia. The Lancet Psychiatry, 7(10).



If you are struggling with mental health or addiction or know someone who is, you can reach out for help here:

Direct Line (Alcohol and Other Drug counselling and referral) 1800 888 236

Beyond Blue (mental health support) 1300 22 4636


If you are someone that has an NDIS plan and are struggling with your mental health or addictions, know that you are not alone; reach

(C) 2024 Break Free Consultancy, Connect and Grow Magazine

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