Mental Health and Social and Emotional Wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, Families and Communities
A Contributing Life: the 2012 National Report Card on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention
Prepared by Chris Holland, with Pat Dudgeon and Helen Milroy
While the fictional story of Jerara’s journey told in A Contributing Life: the 2012 National Report Card on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention was a composite picture to reflect the diversity of the journey of different communities and generations, this paper gives attention to a more in depth picture of that diversity.
It provides detail behind the wider story of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and how this impacts and influences their mental health and wellbeing.
This paper provides a more comprehensive picture of the over half a million Aboriginal peoples and fifty thousand Torres Strait Islanders living in Australia.
Of a population group which is younger when compared to the non-Indigenous population (a median age of 21 years compared to 37 years).
Where in fact just a quarter of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples live in remote areas, with a third in major cities and the remainder in regional centres or areas.
This too is a story of resilience.
Where, despite the significant toll of at least 996 suicides of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples between 2001 and 2010, significantly poorer health and appalling rates of poverty, the majority of 7800 adultsfrom almost 7000 households asked in the 2008 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS) reported being happy (72 per cent), peaceful (59 per cent) and full of life (57 per cent) all or most of the time in the four weeks before the survey.
‘Social and emotional wellbeing’ – a positive state of mental health and happiness associated with a strong and sustaining cultural identity community and family life – has been, and remains, a source of strength against adversity, poverty and neglect.
In fact it is only in the past two decades, following a sustained campaign by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples since at least the 1950s, that the economic position and health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples has started to significantly improve.
The much-needed effort to ‘close the gap’ will continue until at least 2030.
In the meantime, the 2011 Census points to rising income, levels of educational attainment and home ownership.Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have survived a process of colonisation that destroyed whole groups of people, cultures, languages, and their traditional economic and political life. Through these terrible times a connection to culture was critical for survival.
And cultural reclamation has been a major defining movement for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples over the past decades.Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are diverse, spread out across a vast continent, with many language groups, cultures, traditions and experiences.
Too much focus on diversity however can mask collective elements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ experience: a shared cultural history and ancestry in over 250 language groups that suffered invasion by a colonising power.