What we know

  • Indigenous cultures take a holistic view of life and health; therefore, cultural, spiritual and social wellbeing are integral to the health of Indigenous people.

  • The impact of colonisation, relocation of people to missions and reserves and the forced removal of children resulted in the dispossession and dislocation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from land and family. This has disrupted cultural beliefs and practices, and has adversely affected the social and emotional wellbeing of Indigenous people.

  • In 2008, nearly one-third (32%) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 18 and over reported high or very high levels of psychological distress, which was more than twice the proportion for non-Indigenous adults.

  • International studies and Australian data indicate that Indigenous people who are conversant in their own languages have better resilience and mental health.

  • There are few well-conducted evaluations of Indigenous-specific programs whose purpose is to promote social and emotional wellbeing.

  • A number of mainstream (non-Indigenous-specific) programs have been evaluated and shown to be effective in promoting the social and emotional wellbeing of Indigenous people.

What works

  • The cultural healing programs Family Wellbeing, We Al-li and Marumali were effective in helping individuals work through their own issues and exert greater control over their own social and emotional wellbeing. 2 Strategies and practices for promoting the social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • The process evaluation of the Social and Emotional Wellbeing Program (previously the Bringing Them Home Program) found it delivered counselling to a large number of individuals, families and communities who would otherwise have been unlikely to have received such services. Clients were typically satisfied with the program, but the quality of the service varied across locations.
  • Motivational care planning improved the mental health and decreased the substance dependence of Indigenous people with a mental illness in remote communities.
  • A culturally appropriate model of mental health service provision was successful in engaging Indigenous young people.
  • Indigenous hip hop programs increased young people’s self-esteem, their preparedness to talk to family and friends about their own mental health issues and their ability to identify signs of depression in others.
  • Adaptations of effective mainstream programs—the Triple P-Positive Parenting Program, the Resourceful Adolescent Program and MindMatters—were considered culturally competent and achieved positive outcomes with Indigenous Australians

What doesn’t work

  • Good practice principles highlight that programs are unlikely to be effective when:
    • they are not culturally competent and do not have a high level of Indigenous ownership and community support
    • they operate in isolation from, or do not address the legacy of, past trauma, past and current racism and issues such as poverty and homelessness.

What we don’t know

  • Whether programs that teach Indigenous languages have a positive impact on the social and emotional wellbeing of Indigenous people.
  • Whether KidsMatter, the effective mainstream primary school mental health promotion program, is culturally appropriate for Indigenous children and their families and promotes their social and emotional wellbeing.