Indigenous social and emotional wellbeing

imagesIndigenous people have a holistic view of health that incorporates the physical, spiritual, mental, emotional, social and environmental.

It includes healing oneself and relationships with others, such as family and community members. It recognises the importance of connecting to land, culture, spirituality and history, as well as the importance of bonds of reciprocal affection, responsibility and caring.

The Indigenous view of health people also recognises the importance of healing the community, rather than just focusing on the individual.

Indigenous people focus on social and emotional wellbeing, rather than on mental health. They view social and emotional wellbeing problems arising from a broad range of circumstances – unresolved grief and loss, trauma and abuse, domestic violence, removal from family, substance misuse, family breakdown, cultural dislocation, loss of land, racism and discrimination, and social disadvantage.

This holistic view of health, which has been in existence for tens of thousands of years, is superior to the western view of mental health, which is dominated by the medical model. The latter model focuses on the individual and is dominated by pathology, a person’s deficits, and the management of symptoms, generally through the use of prescription drugs.

However, as Australian Aboriginal child psychiatrist Professor Helen Milroy has stated, “From the Aboriginal perspective, we want social and emotional wellbeing versus mental health. We want wellness versus illness. We want balance and harmony versus restoration of function only. We want to come from a strengths approach rather than reducing risks.”

I would add to this, that many Indigenous people want to heal themselves in the way that they know is best, not in the way that non-Indigenous people say he should be ‘treated’. Importantly, considerable research indicates that self-determinism is key to healing and recovery.

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.