Why is Social and Emotional Wellbeing important?
First of all, I myself don’t identify as Australian Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
I am writing this as a white, female, mental health professional. I am grateful for having had the privilege of working with some Australian Aboriginal people and communities. I resonate strongly with the Social and Emotional Wellbeing framework, and have experienced benefits of utilising this perspective irrespective of cultural background, given it’s holistic view.
Understanding Social and Emotional Wellbeing
Social and emotional wellbeing varies across different cultural groups and people.
Broadly speaking, social and emotional wellbeing is a holistic framework which highlights the importance of connections between the self, family, and community (Gee, Dudgeon, Schultz, Hart and Kelly, 2013) in addition to being connected to land, culture, spirituality and ancestors. These elements are all considered important for someone’s social and emotional wellbeing and this differs a lot to a westernised approach to mental health and wellbeing, which is often individualistic and medical in nature.
The social and emotional wellbeing framework highlights these connections as overlapping and intertwined, and the self is not separate to the rest of the social and emotional wellbeing domains for many Australian Aboriginal people.
What are the Domains of Social and Emotional Wellbeing?
The below diagram aims to show the Social and Emotional Wellbeing framework (Gee, Dudgeon, Schultz, Hart and Kelly, 2013).
Each of these connections (or domains) represent an opportunity for keeping us strong against life stressors, traumatic events, grief and loss; whilst each of these connections also represent an opportunity for making us more vulnerable to developing mental health difficulties in these same types of events. This means that social and emotional wellbeing factors can be protective and risk factors depending on the strength or lack of connection.
Social, Political and Historical Determinants
It is important to acknowledge and understand the impacts of colonisation that are still occurring today in present Australian Aboriginal lives, families and communities.
Colonisation has had devastating intergenerational impacts on families, community, kinship systems, connections to country, languages, cultural and spiritual practices, that standard medical model approaches often don’t acknowledge and consider when it comes to the assessment and treatment of Australian Aboriginal people presenting with mental health difficulties. Therefore utilising the social and emotional wellbeing framework effectively can assist mental health professionals to not unintentionally perpetuate colonisation in their attempt to be of service.
Is Social and Emotional Wellbeing another name for Mental Health?
The two are distinct but, as with everything else in this framework, social and emotional wellbeing and mental health do overlap.
Simply put, an individual with strong connections across all of the social and emotional wellbeing domains, may be more resilient to mental health difficulties but they are, like all of us, not immune to mental health difficulties.
How can I Improve my Social and Emotional Wellbeing?
This can look different for different people, however a good place to start can be to look at the social and emotional wellbeing framework, and ask yourself the following questions:
- Are there any areas where I have strong connections that keep me strong?
- Are there any areas where I know I have broken or weaker connections, that may require some work?
Then reach out for support, whether that is to a family member, an elder in your community, or a mental health professional who has experience working within this framework.
Author: Samantha Sheppard, B Psych (Hons).
Samantha is a registered psychologist with experience working with children and adolescents (and their families), young adults and adults. Samantha empowers others with their mental health using a non-judgemental, compassionate approach, and particularly resonates with the social and emotional wellbeing framework.
To make an appointment with Samantha Sheppard try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology Loganholme on (07) 3067 9129.
- Gee, G., Dudgeon, P., Schultz, C., Hart, A., & Kelly, K. (2014). Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social and emotional wellbeing. Working together: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health and wellbeing principles and practice, 2, 55-68.