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Mental Health Services for First Nations People

Mental health is an area with many rising conversations, and it is no different when it comes to First Nation communities. The mental health of First Nations people accounts for 10% of the health and life expectancy gap between them and non-indigenous people. Providing culturally appropriate services where First Nations communities live is essential for improving their health and well-being.

Mental health is a positive state of well-being where a person can manage their thoughts and feelings and cope with the stress of daily living. A person with poor mental health may struggle to reach their potential regarding family, community, culture, and broader society.

Mental Health Statistics of First Nations People

Mental health is a significant concern for First Nations people. Mental and substance use disorders were the leading cause (23%) of the total disease burden for First Nations people in 2018, and the leading causes were:
  • Anxiety disorders (23%)
  • Alcohol use disorders (19%)
  • Depressive disorders (19%)
  • Drug use disorders (excluding alcohol) (9%)
  • Schizophrenia (7%)

Between 2018 and 2019, 31% of First Nations people reported having high or very high levels of psychological stress. This was most common in the age group 45-54 years old. Around 66% reported low or moderate levels of psychological distress. 

First Nations people also suffer higher rates of dementia and depression than non-First Nations people in Australia. Around 12% of First Nations people aged over 45 years have dementia compared to 2% of non-First Nations people. First Nations people living in remote communities are 10 times more likely to develop dementia than people living in Africa, India, or Indonesia.   

A report in 2020 found that First Nations people experience depression (52%) and anxiety (59%) at much higher levels than non-First Nations people in Australia (32% and 47%, respectively). 

In Australia, First Nations people also experience rates of high/very high psychological distress, 2.4 times more than non-First Nations people. Deaths from suicide are also almost twice as high in First Nations people, with hospitalisation rates for intentional self-harm being 3 times as high. 

Mental Health Issues for First Nations People

First Nations people suffer mental health illness in greater proportions than non-First Nations people for a number of reasons including:

  • Adult mortality
  • Grief from the loss of family members
  • Child removal
  • Discrimination, racism
  • Social disadvantage and poverty
  • Isolation and disadvantage
  • Incarceration
  • Loss of identity and culture
  • Poor long-term physical health
  • These factors cause feelings of grief, loss, and trauma.

Mental Health Services for First Nations People

First Nations people use some mental health services at higher rates than non-First Nations people in Australia. But it’s most likely that there are far more First Nations people who don’t have access to the services they need.


Run by First Nations people, 13YARN is a free and confidential counselling service to yarn about any needs, worries, or concerns.


WellMob provides online resources to help support the social, emotional, and cultural well-being of our First Nations communities. 

Counselling Online

Counselling Online provides free support for anyone who needs to speak to a counsellor about drug or alcohol use regarding yourself or a family member.  


HealthInfoNet provides evidence to form practice and policy in health for our First Nations people.  

National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) 

National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation is the national leadership body for health for First Nations people. The organisation provides advice to the Australian government while advocating for community-developed health solutions that contribute to the quality of life and improved health outcomes for First Nations people.

State-based Health Advocacy Organisations

Each state and territory in Australia has an organisation that advocates for the health and well-being of its First Nations people.

Australian Capital Territory - ACT

The Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service (WNAHS) provides a culturally safe, holistic health care service for First Nations people of the ACT and surrounding regions. As well as health care, the WNAHCS promotes good health and healthy lifestyles. 

New South Wales - NSW

The Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council of New South Wales (AH&MRC) works with First Nations and non-First Nations people's health partners to address health and wellbeing. The Council ensures First Nations communities have access to primary health care services.  

Northern Territory - NT

The Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory (AMSANT) aims to grow a strong First Nations community-controlled primary health sector through culturally safe, high-quality comprehensive primary health care.  

Queensland - QLD

The Queensland Aboriginal and Islander Health Council (QAIHC) advocates and lobbies for accessible and equitable comprehensive primary health care for all First Nations people in Queensland. 

South Australia - SA

The Aboriginal Health Council of South Australia represents First Nations community-controlled health and substance misuse services in South Australia by advocating for and supporting health programs for First Nations people. 

Tasmania - TAS

The Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre Inc represents the political and community development aspirations of the Tasmanian First Nations community.  

Victoria - VIC

The Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation Inc. (VACCHO) represents the health and well-being of Victorian First Nations people. 

Western Australia - WA

The Aboriginal Health Council of Western Australia (AHCWA) provides support, advocacy, and influence to improve health outcomes for First Nations people.

With such high rates of mental health illness and psychological distress, dedicated services for First Nations people are needed. You can read more about The Importance of First Nations People's Mental Health Outcomes here.

Providing Psychological Services to First Nations People

While all our psychologists are sensitive to First Nations people’s needs and have training in cultural awareness, we employ First Nations psychologists to provide mental health services to First Nations people. We understand the mistrust of non-First Nations health professionals and issues of power imbalance. 

While there are many areas of concern surrounding mental health in First Nations communities, Altius Group is committed to working with Indigenous organisations and services. The goal is to provide access to a range of psychological programs and make a difference in lives all over Australia. Contact us online or call 1800 258 487 for more information.

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