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).
The 2012-2013 AATSIHS found that Indigenous adults were almost three times more likely to feel high or very high levels of psychological distress than were non-Indigenous adults . Indigenous people may have higher levels of psychological distress because they experience more stressors than do non-Indigenous people.
Almost seven-in-ten Indigenous people experienced one or more significant stressors in the year before the survey, which was almost one-and-a-half-times higher than that experienced by the total Australian population . Indigenous people most often reported stressors like:
These same stressors were also experienced by non-Indigenous people but at lower levels (Figure 1). Stressors like ‘trouble with the police’ and ‘gambling problems’ were five and six times more likely to be reported by Indigenous people than by the general population.
Figure 1. Proportions (%) of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people who experienced stressor(s), by type of stressor, 2012-2013
Source: ABS, 2013 
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-in-ten) Indigenous people felt happy some, most, or all of the time . Around four-in-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.
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. 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 . These children also had twice the rates of alcohol and other drug use.
The WAACHS also found that seven-in-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 .
In 2011-12, 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) .
In 2006-2010, there were 312 Indigenous deaths from ‘mental and behavioural disorders’ . Compared with the non-Indigenous population, Indigenous people were one-and-a-half times more likely to die from these disorders.
Deaths from ‘mental and behavioural disorders’ do not include deaths from ‘intentional self-harm’ (suicide). In 2012, Indigenous people were twice as likely to die from ‘intentional self-harm’ than were non-Indigenous people . Deaths from intentional self-harm were especially high for Indigenous people younger than 35 years of age, with Indigenous men at a very high risk of death from ‘intentional self-harm’.