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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and mental health

4-minute read

Building social and emotional wellbeing

Mental health is a person’s social and emotional wellbeing.

Things that are known to protect the strength and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people are being connected to community, land, culture, spirituality and ancestry, and having a sense of belonging.

It’s important to look after social and emotional wellbeing. Strength can come from family, friends and community. If you are an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person, there is also a lot you can do to find help and healing:

  • staying connected to your family and friends
  • finding someone you can talk to
  • talking kindly to yourself
  • seeing a doctor, health worker or counsellor
  • staying connected to your land and community
  • valuing your culture and spirituality
  • eating healthy food
  • getting enough sleep
  • exercising every day
  • avoiding alcohol or drugs to make yourself feel better

Mental health problems

Everyone has ups and downs. Everyone feels sad or angry or hopeless at times. But if you or someone you know has been feeling broken and sad for more than 2 weeks , this could be a sign of a mental illness such as depression or anxiety. These are mental illnesses that can be treated.

Things that can affect mental health, and make it difficult to stay strong, include:

  • grief and loss
  • trauma
  • problems with families and relationships
  • feeling separated from your culture and identity
  • feeling like you’re being discriminated against
  • feeling unsafe because of violence around you
  • troubles with work, or with finding work
  • having a long-term health problem
  • having an insufficient income
  • living in poor housing conditions
  • lacking access to transport
  • having a drug or alcohol problem

For Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people, events in the past can also affect social and emotional wellbeing. These include loss of lands, the impact of the Stolen Generations, separation from culture and identity and general level of disadvantage experienced by some Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander communities.

Treating mental illness

Most mental illnesses can be effectively treated or managed, so if you have a problem and seek help, there’s every chance that your condition will improve.

There are also online resources that can provide more tips for good mental health and apps for building wellbeing.

Getting help and healing

If you feel like you need help or healing, there are people who can help you. A good place to start is your local doctor or community health service.

You might also want to have a look at these websites:

  • Proppa Deadly (Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people tell their stories about living with depression and anxiety)
  • Trauma and Grief Network (helpful tips for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people about dealing with trauma and grief)
  • Beyond Blue (videos and fact sheets about depression and anxiety in Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people)
  • Stop. Think. Respect (videos and other info about dealing with racial discrimination)

If you live a long way from a city or town, or have limited transport options, and find it difficult to get to a doctor, here are some phone numbers to call, online chat services you can use and websites you can visit:

  • Lifeline (for anyone having a personal crisis) – call 13 11 14 or chat online, 24 hours
  • Counselling Online (for anyone with a drug or alcohol problem) – call 1800 888 236 or chat online 24/7
  • Suicide Call Back Service (for anyone thinking about suicide) – call 1300 659 467 or chat online, 24 hours
  • eheadspace (for 12–25 year olds) – chat online 9am – 1am Melbourne time
  • Kids Helpline (for 5–25 year olds) – call 1800 55 1800 or chat online, 24 hours
  • ReachOut.com (for 14–25 year olds) – website and online forum

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: March 2020


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