Mental Health Coordinating Council has launched a resource page for Working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People in Mental Health to make change for all Australians.
It is estimated that almost one in four Indigenous Australians have a diagnosed mental health or behavioural condition.¹ Despite this, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are less likely to use mental health services than non-Indigenous Australians.
In time for National Reconciliation Week 2022 and the theme “Be Brave. Make Change”, Mental Health Coordinating Council has launched a Resource page with an update to our guide, ‘Working Collaboratively with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People’. We have created this resource and collated numerous others to help bridge the gap in culturally sensitive and safe health services.
It is a challenge for all of us to make change for the benefit of all Australians.
Different cultures embody different conceptualisations of mental health. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People, the use of the term ‘mental health’ and the concept of ‘recovery’ is somewhat foreign, according to the Working Together report.² Instead, good mental health for Indigenous Australians is more holistic and embraces the mind, body, spirit, and cultural fulfillment, including a strong connection to Country. The term ‘social and emotional wellbeing’ is preferred and used by many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, to describe the social, emotional, spiritual and cultural wellbeing of a person. Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people consider ‘mental health’ and ‘mental illness’ as medical terminology that do not encompass all the factors contributing to wellbeing.
For mental health services to be delivered effectively, a person’s cultural and spiritual beliefs need to be considered.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people represent a small percentage of the mental health workforce and hold less than 2% of jobs in the entire health sector. Our Guide makes the point that mental health support services are best delivered by people from the same cultural background as those they support, but we know this is not always possible.
MHCC believes that without enough Indigenous mental health workers, it is critical that the services available to Indigenous Australians are culturally safe and communicate with them appropriately to support their social and emotional wellbeing.
Cultural safety is ensuring respect for cultural and social differences when delivering health services. What is deemed as culturally safe is of course determined by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals, families and communities. It is also important that health workers engage in ongoing critical reflection of their knowledge, skills, attitudes, practising behaviours and power differentials to deliver safe, accessible and responsive healthcare free of racism. This is known as culturally safe practise.Learn more
Visit our resource page for working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People in mental health, including our co-designed guide to culturally safe practice.
Working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People in Mental Health
¹ Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2019, Indigenous Mental Health & Suicide Prevention Clearinghouse, https://www.indigenousmhspc.gov.au/topics/mental-health, last accessed 27 May 2022.
² Dudgeon, P, Milroy, H, Walker, R 2014, Working Together: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health
and Wellbeing Principles and Practice. Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, Australia.