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4704.0 - The Health and Welfare of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, Oct 2010  
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 17/02/2011  Final
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Contents >> Social and emotional wellbeing >> Life stressors — Adults


SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL WELLBEING: LIFE STRESSORS — ADULTS
This article is part of a comprehensive series released as The Health and Welfare of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.


KEY MESSAGES
  • In 2008, 77% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years or over reported that they or their close friends or family had experienced at least one life stressor in the last 12 months.
  • The most common types of stressors reported were the death of a family member or close friend (39%), serious illness or disability (31%) and inability to get a job (22%).


The experience of stressful life events, such as a death in the family or a serious illness, can have a significant effect on social and emotional wellbeing. These stressors may affect an individual either through direct experience or indirectly through the problems of a close family member or friend (Endnote 1).

This topic presents results from the 2008 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS), which provides the most recent ABS data on life stressors among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

In 2008, 77% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years or over reported that they or their close friends or family had experienced at least one life stressor in the last 12 months. The most common types of stressors reported were the death of a family member or close friend (39%), serious illness or disability (31%) and inability to get a job (22%). The prevalence of certain types of stressors varied by region, with people in remote areas reporting higher rates for death of a family member/close friend, alcohol-related problems and overcrowding, while people in non-remote areas were more likely to report serious illness/disability, inability to get a job and mental illness (graph 3.1).

3.1 TYPES OF STRESSORS(a)(b) BY REMOTENESS, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years or over—2008
chart: types of stressors experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over by remoteness, 2008
(a) Experienced by self or close family/friends in last 12 months.
(b) Respondents may have reported more than one type of stressor.
Source: 2008 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey.
These estimates are also available for download in the Social and emotional wellbeing datacube


High rates of multiple stressors were reported by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their friends/families in 2008. Four in ten (42%) had experienced at least three life stressors in the last 12 months and 24% had experienced at least five stressors during this time period. Overall, the average number of stressors experienced was 3. Multiple stressors were more common among those who had been removed from their natural family, with 56% having experienced at least three stressful life events compared with 40% of those who had never been removed. Rates were also higher among those who were unemployed (53% compared with 43% of those employed) or who had a disability or long-term health condition (49% compared with 35%).

Exposure to life stressors was strongly associated with psychological distress in 2008. Over one-third (35%) of those who had experienced at least one stressor in the last 12 months reported high/very high levels of psychological distress. This increased to 43% among those who had experienced at least three life stressors and to 48% among those who had experienced five or more stressors. Level of distress also varied by the type of stressor experienced, with high/very high levels of distress highest among those who had been unwelcome at their child's school (71%), who had witnessed violence (54%), or experienced abuse or violent crime (53%) (graph 3.2).

3.2 TYPES OF STRESSORS(a)(b) BY HIGH/VERY HIGH LEVELS OF PSYCHOLOGICAL DISTRESS, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years or over—2008
chart: stressors experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over who also had high/very high levels of psychological distress, 2008
(a) Experienced by self or close family/friends in last 12 months.
(b) Respondents may have reported more than one type of stressor.
Source: 2008 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey.
These estimates are also available for download in the Social and emotional wellbeing datacube

Stressors were also associated with poorer self-assessed health and higher rates of selected health risk behaviours. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who experienced at least one stressor in the last 12 months were more likely than those who had not experienced a stressor to report being in fair or poor health (25% compared with 14%) and were less likely to report being in excellent or very good health (41% compared with 52%). They were also more likely to be a current daily smoker (46% compared with 38%), to binge drink (38% compared with 31%) and to have used illicit substances in the last 12 months (22% compared with 14%).

The most recent data on stressors for the non-Indigenous population is available from the 2007–08 National Health Survey. As shown in graph 3.2, higher rates of stressors were reported by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people than non-Indigenous people in every age group, with the largest differences occurring amongst those aged 55 years and over. When age differences between the two populations were taken into account, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years or over were one and a half times as likely as non-Indigenous people to report having experienced at least one stressor (age-standardised rate ratio of 1.6). However, the types of stressors experienced by both groups were similar, with death and serious illness/disability being the two most frequently reported stressors by non-Indigenous people in 2007–08.

3.3 HAD EXPERIENCED STRESSORS(a), by Indigenous status—2008

Chart: Had experienced stressors by age and Indigenous status
(a) Experienced by self or close family/friends in last 12 months.
Source: 2008 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey, 2007–08 National Health Survey.
These estimates are also available for download in the Social and emotional wellbeing datacube


ENDNOTES

1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2009, Measuring the social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, Cat. no. IHW 24. Canberra: AIHW. <www.aihw.gov.au>


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