Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health: paradise lost?

1 Feb 2012

It may well be that Australian Aboriginal culture, before significant European contact, provided conditions for mental health that the rest of the world would envy.

Traditional Aboriginal culture has several factors that strongly reinforce good mental health. Sense of self was seen as being intimately connected to all aspects of life, community, spirituality, culture and country. Material needs were provided for through sharing rules, and relationships and kinship defined social roles.
Aboriginal people derived a sense of meaning and understanding of life experience from their connection to country and their Dreaming. Spiritual beliefs offered guidance, comfort, and a sense of connectivity and belonging. Lore, the body of knowledge that defined their culture, and the Elders who contained and interpreted the Lore, were highly valued. Over 200 traditional languages and other methods of communication allowed rich expression, and formal ceremony allowed a method of dealing with life’s transitions through birth, initiation and death.
Men and women had defined economic and cultural roles, and children had a range of “aunties” and older siblings to take over child care if a mother was stressed. Torres Strait Islander culture also had rituals and societal mechanisms that appeared to reinforce mental health.

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