A new website developed under the auspices of the APS and launched at this year’s Annual Conference will assist service providers seeking to develop, or improve, a culturally appropriate service for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. To assist in better meeting the social and emotional wellbeing and mental health needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the website showcases ‘promising practice’ principles and methods, and features examples from existing programs and services.

The website –Social and Emotional Wellbeing and Mental Health Services in Aboriginal Australia (www.sewbmh.org.au ) – was developed following a comprehensive review of 46 Indigenous-specific services in remote, rural and urban settings across Australia. This review was conducted for the APS by a group of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander psychologists who went on to form the Australian Indigenous Psychologists Association (AIPA) following their involvement in the project, which was funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing (DoHA).

There is growing recognition of the need for programs and services to address social and emotional wellbeing and mental health issues in many Indigenous communities. However, if such issues are confronted or dealt with in a culturally inappropriate way, well-meaning service providers can unwittingly do more harm than good. A primary aim of the website is to increase policy makers’ understanding of innovative, best-practice models that work in Indigenous communities. Site users can search an extensive database of Indigenous-specific social and emotional wellbeing services and programs across Australia, and access information on culturally-specific tools that have been developed, or adapted, for use with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Some of the Indigenous-led programs have been operating ‘under the radar’ for some time, but they work because they are what their communities asked for.

The website resource was designed to be responsive to community and sector needs, and is intended for health professionals, policy-makers, and anyone interested in learning about the provision of social and emotional wellbeing and/or mental health services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The database is not specifically intended for consumers looking for mental health treatment or support services, and hence is not designed to accommodate referral to individual or privately practising service providers.

- IP-Dec2011-sewbmhBackground to the project

The engagement of Indigenous people in mental health services is a key ingredient in the improvement of mental health outcomes in Indigenous communities. Research indicates that not only are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples less likely than their non-Indigenous counterparts to attend mental health services, they are also likely to engage for shorter periods of time at a more chronic level. A primary explanation for these findings has been the ‘cultural inappropriateness’ of existing services, characterised by the failure of mental health services and clinicians to embrace Indigenous conceptualisations of social and emotional health and wellbeing, a term that is generally preferred to ‘mental health’ (or illness).

In 2006, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) agreed to the National Action Plan on Mental Health 2006-2011, recognising the need for a change in the way governments respond to mental illness. The Plan provided a strategic framework that emphasised coordination and collaboration between government, private and non-government providers, aimed at building a more connected system of health care and community supports for people affected by mental illness. Alongside these developments, the COAG reforms included targeting specific Indigenous issues as a complement to its new programs for community awareness component.

The Indigenous Help-Seeking Project was funded in 2007 by DoHA and undertaken by the APS, to identify culturally appropriate models which increase mental health awareness among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities, and increase their uptake of mental health services. A working party of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander psychologists was formed to guide the direction of the project, and later, to undertake reviews of potential ‘exemplar’ innovative models and services. Following further consultation regarding dissemination of the project’s findings, it was decided that a comprehensive web-based resource would be best suited to showcasing the elements of service models that are critical to the promotion and provision of culturally safe and appropriate social and emotional wellbeing and mental health services across Australia.

About the website

The Indigenous help-seeking project materials were formatted and mapped into an accessible and reliable database and incorporated into a user-friendly website. The website has been designed to be accessible to mental health workers and the wider community. The site includes a range of information to assist service providers in adapting their practises to better meet the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, including:

  • Information about Indigenous concepts of social and emotional wellbeing
  • Promising practice principles for those seeking to develop or improve relevant programs for Indigenous communities, based on the elements identified as common to initiatives which raise mental health awareness and encourage help-seeking, that are working well, or have clear potential to work well, in Indigenous communities
  • Examples of both Indigenous-led and mainstream innovative programs that have put these principles into practice
  • Indigenous-specific screening and assessment tools and mainstream screens and tools that have been adapted for use with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
  • The location of Indigenous-specific social and emotional wellbeing and mental health programs and services across Australia, summarised in a searchable database. The website provides contact details easily located on the service map.
  • A number of useful links to further information.

The long-term success of the website requires wide dissemination of its function and content. The APS has appointed an Indigenous Project Officer to monitor the website, FAQ content, and feedback about the site’s functionality and practical contribution to the take-up of the core principles, services and programs. If you would like to comment on this website, please contact us at sewbmh@psychology.org.au

Heather Gridley FAPS
Manager, Public Interest
National Office


As part of the 2011 APS membership renewal, members were given the opportunity to donate to a fund that awards bursaries for Indigenous postgraduate psychology students in necessitous financial circumstances. The generosity of APS members has raised more than $30,000 for the fund this year. The bursary fund was established in 2006 by the then APS President Amanda Gordon in acknowledgement of the disadvantage experienced by Indigenous Australians and to accelerate the growth in the numbers of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander psychologists, with funds initially raised from the Bendi Lango series of art exhibitions. Members now have the opportunity to make tax-deductible donations to support the busaries, with this particularly highlighted at membership renewal time.

The bursaries aim to alleviate some of the financial concerns Indigenous students may experience in seeking to complete a postgraduate professional degree in psychology. Each bursary or award of financial assistance is valued at $15,000 per annum during the time that the applicant is in full-time study in either a Masters coursework degree (MPsych) or a professional Doctorate (DPsych or PsychD). Since the program was established, three Indigenous bursary recipients have successfully completed their postgraduate psychology studies.

The closing date for applications for the 2012 bursaries is Friday 13th January 2012. A selection committee will recommend the recipient(s) to the Board on the basis of merit together with confirmation of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander identity, and proof of offer and acceptance, or enrolment, into an APAC-accredited postgraduate program. Application details are available from the APS Indigenous Psychology Research Officer Samantha Smith s.smith@psychology.org.au and at