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4704.0 - The Health and Welfare of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, Oct 2010  
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Contents >> Social and emotional wellbeing >> Psychological distress


SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL WELLBEING: PSYCHOLOGICAL DISTRESS
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, 31% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over reported high/very high levels of psychological distress.
  • Rates were particularly high among those with a disability or long-term health condition, who had been victims of violence or who had experienced discrimination.


This topic presents results from the 2008 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS), which provides the most recent data for psychological distress among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It builds upon the information presented under the Health Status: Psychological distress topic in Adult Health.

As previously outlined, 31% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over reported high/very high levels of psychological distress during the four weeks prior to interview. Rates were higher among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women (34%) than men (27%), particularly in younger age groups. There was no significant difference in rates of distress between people living in remote and non-remote areas (29% compared with 31%).

Certain groups within the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community were more vulnerable to high/very high levels of psychological distress in 2008. For example, people with a disability or long-term health condition were more than twice as likely as those without a disability to report high/very high levels of distress (43% compared with 19%). As shown in table 2.1, rates of distress were also high among those who had been a victim of violence, who were unemployed, who had experienced discrimination or who had been exposed to at least three life stressors in the previous year.

2.1 PSYCHOLOGICAL DISTRESS BY SELECTED GROUPS AT RISK, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over—2008

Low/ moderate
psychological distress
High/very high
psychological distress
Total(a)

%
%
%
Victim of physical or threatened violence
52.7
46.3
100.0
Not a victim of physical or threatened violence
72.3
26.0
100.0
Unemployed
55.8
43.8
100.0
Employed
74.6
24.4
100.0
Experienced discrimination
55.5
43.6
100.0
Did not experience discrimination
72.4
25.8
100.0
Experienced at least three life stressors(b)
55.8
42.9
100.0
Did not experience any life stressors(b)
81.0
16.9
100.0
Has disability or long-term health condition
56.0
42.6
100.0
Has no disability or long-term health condition
79.5
18.9
100.0
Incarcerated in lifetime
56.5
39.8
100.0
Has never been incarcerated 
68.9
29.8
100.0
Removed from natural family
59.2
38.8
100.0
Has never been removed from natural family
68.8
29.8
100.0
All persons
67.8
30.7
100.0

(a) Includes not stated responses.
(b) Experienced by self or close family/friends in the last 12 months
Source: 2008 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey. These estimates are also available for download in the Social and emotional wellbeing datacube


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with strong support networks and links to community reported lower levels of psychological distress in 2008. For example, people who were able to confide in their family and/or friends were less likely to report high/very high levels of distress than those who could not confide in family/friends (29% compared with 37%). High/very levels of distress were also less common among those who were able to get support from outside their household in a crisis (30% compared with 38% of those unable to get support) and who frequently had a say on community issues (24% compared with 33% of those with little or no say). However, psychological distress was not significantly associated with identification with a clan or language group, participation in cultural activities or recognition of homelands.

For more information on how psychological distress impacts on self-assessed health and likelihood of engaging in health risk behaviours, as well as comparisons with the non-Indigenous population, see the Health Status: Psychological distress topic in Adult Health.



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