National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Strategy

Social and emotional wellbeing

Page last updated: 2013

Suicide is a multidimensional issue, which has a devastating impact on individuals and families and ongoing implications for the communities in which they live. High rates of suicide among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are commonly attributed to a complex set of factors which not only includes disadvantage and risk factors shared by the non-Indigenous population, but also a broader set of social, economic and historic determinations that impact on Aboriginal social and emotional wellbeing and mental health. The Social Health Reference Group for the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Council and National Mental Health Working Group (2004) responsible for developing the National Strategic Framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People's Mental Health and Social and Emotional Wellbeing 2004-2009 draws an important distinction between the concepts of 'social and emotional wellbeing' used in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander settings and the term 'mental health' used in non-Indigenous settings.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples view health in a holistic context that encompasses mental health, physical, cultural and spiritual health. Land is central to wellbeing and when the harmony of these interrelations is disrupted, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ill health persists. Additionally there is no single Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture or group, but numerous groupings, languages, kinships and tribes, as well as ways of living. These differences should be acknowledged and universal prevention strategies, which promote strong, resilient communities focusing on restoring social and emotional wellbeing should be implemented through the development of locally developed strategies in a way that is supported.

In this context the Social Health Reference Group concluded that:

The concept of mental health comes more from an illness or clinical perspective and its focus is more on the individual and their level of functioning in their environment.

The 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. 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. (Social Health Reference Group, 2004, page 9)Top of page

Figure 4: Policy context of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Strategy

Refer to the following text for a text equivalent of Figure 4: Policy context of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Strategy

Text version of figure 4

The flow chart describes the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Strategy as an overarching national framework within the current policy context, within the Living is For Everyone (LiFE) Framework. COAG and the Fourth National Mental Health Plan provide overarching governance whilst the following strategies align and work in conjunction/ collaboration with the strategy:
  • State/territory suicide prevention strategies (ACT, Qld, NSW, SA, Tas, Vic, WA)
  • National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Drug Strategy
  • Closing the Gap/ National Indigenous reform agreements and
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social and Emotional Wellbeing Framework.
The figure also demonstrates that account needs to be taken of the relationship between broader social determinants such as physical health, education, justice, child protection, community services and Aboriginal affairs. Top of page