Journal article


Aboriginal women are frequently called upon to support their families and other community members. At times, such supporting roles can be burdensome for these women. Many Aboriginal women live with chronic conditions. We explored the ways in which the women’s caring roles impacted on how they maintained their own health.

Methods: The aim of this manuscript is to explore the psychosocial factors associated with the management of health and chronic disease in Aboriginal women. An interpretive phenomenological approach was used for the analysis of 72 in-depth semi-structured interviews. These interviews were conducted in four community controlled Aboriginal health services, in urban, rural and remote settings, across two states and a territory in Australia.

Results: Women living with chronic disease experience multiple challenges while caring for family, such as intergenerational trauma, mental health issues relating to addiction, domestic and family violence and incarceration. When these women become ill, they also have to take care of themselves. These women provided informal and unfunded care in response to a range of complex family and community problems. This continuous caring for family affected the women’s ability to maintain their health and manage their own chronic conditions.

Conclusion: The caring roles and responsibilities Aboriginal women have in their community impact on their health. Aboriginal women provide much needed refuge and support to family and the wider community. Underfunded and over-burdened formal support services are not meeting the needs of many Aboriginal women. Improved culturally secure resources and social services are required within communities to support Aboriginal women to successfully manage their own health.

Key Findings:

  • Formal support systems such as the police and women’s shelters were not used as often as needed because these services were seen as not being accessible or culturally secure for Aboriginal women. Instead, the women were providing services that should have been provided by drug and alcohol, mental health, domestic and family violence and homelessness service providers.
  • The health of Aboriginal women with chronic disease who have multiple caring roles is at serious risk due to the lack of culturally appropriate health and social services. When directly asked ‘who looks after you’ these women did not readily identify other people who cared for them.
  • The women in this study spoke of the stressors affecting them, and their families. They talked about their competing roles and responsibilities, intergenerational trauma, death and dying, and shared how caring was not an easy task; in fact, it could become very burdensome. Yet, it is a role that is normalized and expected as an Aboriginal woman within a family unit.
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