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Posted: September 7th, 2023

Mental health issues among the aboriginal populations

Mental health issues among the aboriginal populations

Mental health is a holistic concept that includes physical, social, emotional, cultural and spiritual wellbeing, for both the individual and the community. However, many aboriginal populations around the world face significant challenges to their mental health and wellbeing, such as racism, discrimination, poverty, trauma, intergenerational loss and cultural disconnection.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Indigenous Australians have higher rates of psychological distress, suicide and self-harm, hearing loss, eye health problems and oral health issues than non-Indigenous Australians. In 2018, Indigenous Australians as a whole lost almost 240,000 years of healthy life due to ill-health and premature death. Racism is a major determinant of health inequalities, as it affects not only the mental health but also the physical health of Indigenous Australians. A systematic scoping review by Kairuz et al. found that racism is associated with negative overall mental and negative general health outcomes among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The most common health outcomes linked to racism were general poor mental health and poor general health perception. Other specific outcomes such as anxiety, depression, child behaviour, asthma, increased BMI and smoking were also related to racism.

Similar patterns of mental health issues among aboriginal populations can be observed in other countries as well. For example, in Canada, Indigenous peoples have higher rates of suicide, substance abuse, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder than non-Indigenous Canadians. In urban settings, homeless and under-housed Indigenous peoples often suffer from mental health issues, such as substance abuse and depression. In Australia, a report in 2014 found “dramatic” increases in Aboriginal rates of youth suicide, anxiety and depression, as well as cognitive disability and mental health among offenders, and perinatal mental health. More than a quarter of Aboriginal people, and almost a fifth of all Torres Strait Islanders, reported having a mental condition in 2018-19.

These findings highlight the urgent need for culturally appropriate and trauma-informed interventions to address the mental health issues among aboriginal populations. Such interventions should acknowledge the historical and contemporary factors that contribute to the poor mental health outcomes of Indigenous peoples, and respect their rights, values and aspirations. Moreover, such interventions should involve Indigenous peoples in their design, delivery and evaluation, to ensure their relevance, effectiveness and sustainability.



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