Develop a mental health approach adapted to the Aboriginal population
Mental health is the capacity of individuals and groups to interact with one another and the environment in ways that promote subjective well-being, optimal development and the use of cognitive, affective and relational abilities. This definition focuses on the fact that mental health is not limited to the absence of disease, but is a positive state.
Many Aboriginal peoples share this holistic and positive view of mental health. Moreover, the concept of wellness, disease and healing represent fundamental elements when discussing the identity of many Aboriginal groups, who place significant importance on family, group and community health.
Why do certain Aboriginal communities continue to show disproportionate rates of psychosocial problems, including mental disorders, despite an increase in interventions and services? One possible hypothesis is the predominance of the deficit model of health leading to a medicalization, issues of power and unintentional neglect of the cultural, local and experiential reality of users, their needs and expectations.
It is becoming increasingly evident that the improvement of Aboriginal mental health cannot be achieved solely by means of Western health practices. This responsibility belongs not only to so-called conventional services, but also to the Aboriginal people themselves for whom healing traditions are an important and prevalent aspect of their cultures.
It is possible to integrate Aboriginal traditional care practices to Western clinical services. The result could have beneficial effects on users’ mental health. This is known as interdisciplinary practices in which traditional healing methods are considered along with other treatments (e.g. CBT and pharmacotherapy) and used in tandem with more conventional Western practices depending on the users’ wishes and needs.
One example of this integration is the “Protocols” where the goal is to guide the clinician in providing a culturally safe and adapted service to the local context. In this approach, health care providers and users have an equal relationship. Users are also supported and encouraged to take charge of their healing and/or recovery process.
When putting the users, as well as their conception of the disease and expectations at the centre of the intervention, which also includes traditional practices, this can help in establishing trust with the health care providers, increase adherence to treatment. As a result, it improves therapeutic effects while reducing pressure on families and delivery of services.
The integration of traditional healing practices and the users’ accountability in the helping relationship play a major role in increasing the power to act as well as self-determination among Aboriginal individuals, groups and communities.
With this in mind, this thematic file will provide an opportunity to reflect and discuss based on the collaboration geared towards the improvement of Aboriginal mental health. A holistic perspective of mental health should guide interventions based primarily on Aboriginal peoples’ needs as defined by them.