At a glance

​When supporting the wellbeing of an Aboriginal person, it is important to understand the strengths and protective nature of culture, kinship, family and connection to country. It is also critical to be aware that experiences of trauma and loss are a direct outcome of the disruption to cultural wellbeing beginning from colonisation. Compounded trauma and loss of this magnitude continues to have intergenerational effects today. 

When supporting an Aboriginal person, it is important to understand:

  • the importance of acknowledging the resilience of Aboriginal people when they share their story
  • the significance of culture, family, community, country and spirituality in their journey
  • that social and emotional wellbeing may be better understood than mental illness, so using these more familiar terms may be helpful
  • the importance of including families, kinship and extended clan groups
  • the significant impact that stigma, discrimination and trauma may have on their life.

Evidence shows that Aboriginal people are more likely to access health services where service providers communicate respectfully, build good relationships, have an awareness of the underlying social issues, as well as some understanding of culture and where Aboriginal people are part of the health care team.

- A person with lived experience of a mental health condition

When working with an Aboriginal person the best support will be provided by using similar approaches for working with all people with mental health conditions. However these approaches should be adapted to respect the cultural context. Your support should include:

  • recovery-oriented approach: focussing on the person and their strengths, and not the condition
  • holistic approach: considering physical, psychological, social, cultural and spiritual wellbeing
  • person-centred approach: planning and decisions are driven by the person and their needs, interests and goals. Be aware that for many Aboriginal people, their family and/or community are likely to be central to their journey and you should ask if they will be included in decision making
  • trauma-informed approach: providing support in a way that shows knowledge and understanding of how trauma affects people’s lives and service needs
  • empowerment: encouraging people to take control of their lives and where appropriate, reconnect with country, family, community and culture.

Something I would recommend to clinicians and people who are dealing with Indigenous mental health - it’s when you are in a community, find the champions in your community. The people who are practising or who are helping with the revival of the culture in those communities.

- A person with lived experience of a mental health condition

Each Aboriginal person will be different. It is important to avoid stereotyping. Listen without judgement, ask if you are uncertain and clarify. Build trust by being respectful, reliable and honest.

Each Aboriginal person will be different. It is important to avoid stereotyping. Listen without judgement, ask if you are uncertain and clarify. Build trust by being respectful, reliable and honest.

Resources

Working with Aboriginal People: Enhancing Clinical Practice in Mental Health Care
This video and related discussion guide talk about the significance of culture, family, community and spirituality in the healing journey for Aboriginal people. Type: Video | Closed captions
Viewing time: Multiple short videos, totalling 26:06
Produced by: NSW Health

Indigenous Mental Health
This video explains how culture and spirituality affect the mental health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Type: Video | Closed captions
Viewing time: 8:57
Produced by: Indigenous Health MeDTalk

No shame in talking it out
This fact sheet is a resource for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It highlights the importance of looking after spiritual, mental, emotional, family and physical wellbeing.
Type: Web page
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Produced by: headspace

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and mental health conditions (MHCC Mental Health Rights Manual)
This chapter of the manual highlights mechanisms and services that are available to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to maximise their access to mental health care, treatment and support in NSW.
Type: Web page
Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
Produced by: Mental Health Coordinating Council

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
This is the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people section of the National Framework for Recovery-Oriented Mental Health Services and includes tips for service delivery.
Type: Web page
Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
Produced by: Australian Department of Health

Social and Emotional Wellbeing
This page provides an overview of factors that affect the social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and includes links to specific mental health problems.
Type: Web page
Estimated reading time: 20 minutes
Produced by: Australian Indigenous Health InfoNet

Communicating positively: A guide to appropriate Aboriginal terminology
This guide highlights appropriate word usage when working with Aboriginal people and communities.  The use of accurate and non-offensive language is essential to ensure services and programs that Aboriginal people access are culturally safe.
Type: Publication (PDF)
Length: 25 pages
Produced by: NSW Health

Working with Aboriginal people and communities – A practical resource
This guide was developed to improve service delivery, cultural awareness and responsiveness to the needs of Aboriginal people and communities in NSW.
Type: Publication (PDF)
Length: 51 pages
Produced by: NSW Department of Community Services

An introduction to Cultural Integrity
This is a free online learning course that covers an awareness of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ culture, history and language and ways to communicate effectively. In order to access this training, you will need to set up an account.
Type: Free online learning
Produced by: QCOSS Community Door

Current as at: Monday 20 January 2020
Contact page owner: Mental Health Branch