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What do we know about social and emotional wellbeing among Indigenous people?

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What is social and emotional wellbeing?

Social and emotional wellbeing is a term used to talk about a person's overall social, emotional, psychological (mental), spiritual, and cultural wellbeing. Factors that are important to social and emotional wellbeing include a person's:

Social and emotional wellbeing is often confused with mental health, but it is much broader: social and emotional wellbeing is concerned with the overall wellbeing of the person. On the other hand, mental health describes how a person thinks and feels, and how they cope with and take part in everyday life. It is often seen, incorrectly, as simply the absence of a mental illness.

Many things can influence a person's social and emotional wellbeing, including:

Measuring social and emotional wellbeing is difficult, but it usually relies on self-reported feelings (like happiness or calmness) or 'stressors' (stressful events in a person's life).

What is known about the social and emotional wellbeing of Indigenous people?

The 2008 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS) collected information on positive wellbeing and asked people to report on feelings of happiness, calmness and peacefulness, fullness of life, and energy levels. The survey found that most (nine-out-of-ten) Indigenous people felt happy some, most, or all of the time [3]. Around four-out-of-five Indigenous people reported feeling calm and peaceful, full of life, and that they had a lot of energy some, most, or all of the time.

Similar information has not been collected from non-Indigenous people, so there is no way to compare Indigenous and non-Indigenous people's positive wellbeing. It is likely, however, that Indigenous people would report lower levels of social and emotional wellbeing overall because they experience higher levels of psychological distress and more stressors when compared with non-Indigenous people [2][4].

The 2008 NATSISS and the 2007-2008 National Health Survey (NHS) found that Indigenous adults were two-and-a-half times more likely to feel high or very high levels of psychological distress than were non-Indigenous adults [3].

Indigenous people may have higher levels of psychological distress because they experience more stressors than do non-Indigenous people. The 2008 NATSISS found that almost eight-out-of-ten Indigenous people experienced one or more significant stressors in the year before the survey interview [2]; this compared with six-out-of-ten for the total population [4].

Compared with the stressors reported by the general population in the 2010 General Social Survey (GSS), many more Indigenous people reported stressors like: the death of a family member or friend; alcohol or drug related problems; trouble with the police; and witness to violence (Figure 4) [2]. Almost one-in-five Indigenous people also reported that either themselves, a family member, or friend had been sent to jail in the previous 12 months, but this stressor was not reported by the general population.

Figure 1. Proportion (%) of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people who experienced stressor(s), by type of stressor, 2008 and 2010

SEWB stressor summary

Source: AIHW, 2011 [2], ABS, 2011 [4]

In 2010-11, Indigenous people were more than twice as likely to be hospitalised for ‘mental and behavioural disorders' than were other Australians (‘mental and behavioural disorders' occur when a person becomes unwell in the mind and experiences changes in their thinking, feelings, and/or behaviour that affects their day-to-day life) [5].

In 2005-2009, there were 268 Indigenous deaths from ‘mental and behavioural disorders' [3]. Compared with the non-Indigenous population, Indigenous people were nearly twice as likely to die from these disorders.

Deaths from ‘mental and behavioural disorders' do not include deaths from ‘intentional self-harm' (suicide). In 2010, Indigenous people were two-and-a-half times more likely to die from ‘intentional self-harm' than were non-Indigenous people [6]. Deaths from intentional self-harm are especially high for Indigenous people aged 34 years or younger, with Indigenous males at a very high risk of death from 'intentional self-harm'.

The most detailed information on the social and emotional wellbeing of Indigenous children comes from the Western Australian Aboriginal Child Health Survey (WAACHS). This survey found that almost one-quarter of Indigenous children and young people were rated by their carer (parent or guardian) as being at high risk of ‘clinically significant emotional or behavioural difficulties' (emotional or behavioural problems that affect a person's day-to-day life); this compares with one-in-seven children for the general WA population [7].

Indigenous children whose carers had been forcibly separated (taken away) from their families were at high risk of having ‘clinically significant emotional or behavioural difficulties', more than twice the risk of children whose carer had not been forcibly separated [7]. These children also had twice the rates of alcohol and other drug use.

The WAACHS also found that seven-out-of-ten Indigenous children were living in families that had experienced three or more major life stress events (like a death in the family, serious illness, family breakdown, financial problems, or arrest) in the year before the survey, and one-in-five had experienced seven or more major stress events [7].

In 2010-11, Indigenous people were more than twice as likely to be hospitalised for ‘mental and behavioural disorders' than were other Australians (‘mental and behavioural disorders' occur when a person becomes unwell in the mind and experiences changes in their thinking, feelings, and/or behaviour that affects their day-to-day life) [5].

In 2005-2009, there were 268 Indigenous deaths from ‘mental and behavioural disorders' [3]. Compared with the non-Indigenous population, Indigenous people were nearly twice as likely to die from these disorders.

Deaths from ‘mental and behavioural disorders' do not include deaths from 'intentional self-harm' (suicide). In 2010, Indigenous people were two-and-a-half times more likely to die from ‘intentional self-harm' than were non-Indigenous people [6]. Deaths from intentional self-harm are especially high for Indigenous people aged 34 years or younger, with Indigenous males at a very high risk of death from 'intentional self-harm'.

The most detailed information on the social and emotional wellbeing of Indigenous children comes from the Western Australian Aboriginal Child Health Survey (WAACHS). This survey found that almost one-quarter of Indigenous children and young people were rated by their carer (parent or guardian) as being at high risk of ‘clinically significant emotional or behavioural difficulties' (emotional or behavioural problems that affect a person's day-to-day life); this compares with one-in-seven children for the general WA population [7].

Indigenous children whose carers had been forcibly separated (taken away) from their families were at high risk of having ‘clinically significant emotional or behavioural difficulties', more than twice the risk of children whose carer had not been forcibly separated [7]. These children also had twice the rates of alcohol and other drug use.

The WAACHS also found that seven-out-of-ten Indigenous children were living in families that had experienced three or more major life stress events (like a death in the family, serious illness, family breakdown, financial problems, or arrest) in the year before the survey, and one-in-five had experienced seven or more major stress events [7].

References

  1. Garvey D (2008) Review of the social and emotional wellbeing of Indigenous Australian peoples. Retrieved 2008 from http://www.healthinfonet.ecu.edu.au/other-health-conditions/mental-health/reviews/our-review
  2. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2011) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health performance framework 2010: detailed analyses. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
  3. Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision (2011) Overcoming Indigenous disadvantage: key indicators 2011. Canberra: Productivity Commission, Australia
  4. Australian Bureau of Statistics (2011) General social survey: summary results, Australia, 2010 : Personal stressors [data cube]. Retrieved 30 September 2011 from http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/subscriber.nsf/log?openagent&4159do011_gss2010.xls&4159.0&Data%20Cubes&0EEA50189835C2CCCA25791A00146784&0&2010&30.09.2011&Latest
  5. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2012) Australian hospital statistics 2010-11 supplementary tables. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
  6. Australian Bureau of Statistics (2012) Causes of death, Australia, 2010: Deaths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians [data cube]. Retrieved 20 March 2012 from http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/subscriber.nsf/log?openagent&3303.0_12%20deaths%20of%20aboriginal%20and%20torres%20strait%20islander%20australians.xls&3303.0&Data%20Cubes&0BC29ACBD5D3F0D5CA257A24001D97D6&0&2010&22.06.2012&Previous
  7. Zubrick SR, Silburn SR, Lawrence DM, Mitrou FG, Dalby RB, Blair EM, Griffin J, Milroy H, De Maio JA, Cox A, Li J (2005) The social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal children and young people: vol 2. Perth: Telethon Institute for Child Health Research and Curtin University of Technology
 
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