Understanding Indigenous Wellbeing

TristanSchultzArtwork“Indigenous people have a holistic view of health and wellbeing that incorporates the physical, spiritual, mental, emotional, scial and environmental. It does not just focus on the individual, but also on the health and wellbeing of the community.”

Indigenous Heath and Wellbeing
To appreciate the many ways that society can facilitate the healing of Indigenous people, we must understand the Indigenous view of health and wellbeing. It is different to that of western culture.

Indigenous people have a holistic view of health and wellbeing that incorporates the physical, spiritual, mental, emotional, social and environmental. It does not just focus on the individual, but also on the health and wellbeing of the community.

This view, which has been in existence for tens of thousands of years, is far richer than the western concept of mental health, which comes from an illness or clinical perspective.

This perspective is focused more on the individual and their level of functioning in their environment. It primarily utilises the medical model and is focused on pathology, deficits and symptom management.

The indigenous concept of ‘social and emotional wellbeing concept is broader than this and recognises the importance of connection to land, culture, spirituality, ancestry, family and community, and how these affect the individual.’ [1]

In relation to the health of Indigenous people of Australia: ‘It must be recognised that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have great strengths, creativity and endurance and a deep understanding of the relationships between human beings and their environment.

The centrality of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family and kinship must be recognized as well as the broader concepts of family, and the bonds of reciprocal affection, responsibility and caring.

Self-determination is central to the provision of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health services.

Culturally valid understandings must shape the provision of services and must guide assessment, care and management of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s health,mental health problems in particular’ (SHRG, 2004:10). [1]

Risks & Protective Factors
We gain further insights into facilitating Indigenous healing by looking at risks and protective factors for health and wellbeing.

For example, if cultural dislocation is a risk factor, then we must prevent this from happening. If land is a protective factor, then we facilitate connections to land.

Risks to the social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been identified as:

‘Social and emotional wellbeing problems cover a broad range of problems that can result from unresolved grief and loss, trauma and abuse, domestic violence, removal from family, substance misuse, family breakdown, cultural dislocation, racism and discrimination, and social disadvantage’ [1]

‘Protective factors for Indigenous social and emotional wellbeing have been identified as connection to land, culture, spirituality, ancestry and family and community.

These factors can serve as a unique reservoir of resilience and recovery in the face of adversity and moderate the impact of stressful circumstances on social and emotional wellbeing at the individual, family and community level.

Land is central to social relationships and the spiritual and emotional wellbeing of Indigenous individuals, families and communities. To fully understand social and emotional wellbeing it is necessary to understand the cultural dimensions of wellbeing.’ [1]

[1] ‘Defining Indigenous Social and Emotional Wellbeing and Mental Health’ Australian Indigenous Psychologists Association (AIPA)

SHRG: Social Health Reference Group (2004). National Strategic Framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ Mental Health and Social and Emotional Well Being 2004-2009. Australian Department of Health and Ageing, Canberra.

The beautiful artwork above is from Tristan Schultz showing Seven Domains of Social and Emotional Wellbeing on a webpage from the Social Policy Research Centre, University of New South Wales. This page is important reading.

This talk makes for excellent listening: Social and Emotional Wellbeing – Indigenous point of view by Clinton Schultz.

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