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Curtin University of Technology
Building Mental Wealth Building Mental Wealth

Building Mental Wealth: Improving mental health for better health outcomes among Indigenous Australians

Mental health issues impact on the health and wellbeing of Indigenous Australians who do not always engage with mainstream mental health services. This project which ran from the 1st January, 2009 to the 30th June 2014 built the capacity of a critical mass of Indigenous and non Indigenous researchers who engaged, collaborated and worked with Indigenous communities, clinicians and health providers to develop a sustainable culturally appropriate mental health policy and service model including adjunctive services to chronic disease management.

This project linked Indigenous Australians with researchers who were experienced in the areas of Indigenous health, mental health, chronic illness and health services research to develop a sustainable model of culturally appropriate mental health care. There was a strong commitment to the development of effective strategies and innovative approaches to high quality research that builds capacity within the research team, engages the Aboriginal community, health practitioners and effectively ensures the implementation of evidence into policy and practice.

The logo uses the central symbol of a head to represent the field of mental health. It is surrounded by large circles which symbolize the organisations and community groups which contribute to a combined effort to improve mental health in Australia. The smaller circles in between the larger circles represent the individuals affected by mental ill-health and their families. The roads in the outer section of the logo symbolize the many pathways that lead to mental ill-health and back to restored mental health. The logo was designed by Allison Bellottie, an Aboriginal artist belonging to the Malgana and Nanda tribal groups from the Shark Bay area of Western Australia.


This research was committed to the development of effective strategies and innovative approaches to high quality research that builds capacity within the research team, engages the Aboriginal community, health practitioners and effectively ensures the implementation of evidence into policy and practice. The research framework explored Aboriginal conceptualizations of mental health, inpatient service delivery, outreach and prevention across two sites (WA & NSW). One of this project's unique strengths was that it brought together a team that allowed comparative research, capacity building and skill development in both NSW and WA. Research into Aboriginal mental health is in its nascence. A principle objective of this proposal was to build the research capacity of Indigenous and non Indigenous researchers to deliver high quality applied research that improves Aboriginal mental health outcomes.

Community involvement and ownership over the research's objectives, methods, processes and outcomes were essential for the success of this research. Governance and research mechanisms were incorporated into the research to ensure maximum opportunity for community involvement and information dissemination. A Steering Group made up of significant Aboriginal people and agency stakeholders guided each research project and ensured the methods developed were culturally sensitive and appropriate.

The nature of this research involved a number of lead agencies included in research and service delivery (DoH, Kulunga, AHCWA) who have developed partnerships with our group or their institutions in complementary research projects. Governance was premised on sound existing relationships, protocols and procedures. The project was led by Professor Jan Piek who has extensive experience in supervising and mentoring researchers, and supported by Professor David Vicary who has senior executive leadership experience in state government and has undertaken leadership roles in a number of research projects investigating Aboriginal mental health and policy development.

This research project developed capacity and sustainable outcomes in the domain of Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander mental health research. The research proposal is consistent with priorities identified in:

i) NHMRC Road Map: A Strategic Framework for Improving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health through Research

ii) Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage in Western Australia Report

iii) The Health and Welfare of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples

iv) Western Australian Aboriginal Child Health Survey

This project built research and community capacity in areas of priority for Aboriginal mental health. The research framework investigated conceptualizations of Aboriginal mental health in WA and NSW by focusing upon:

1) building mental health resilience in Aboriginal families and communities

This Team was committed to developing mental health resilience in Aboriginal children, adults, families and communities and examining the relationship of mental health as a co-morbid condition. The development of resilience is of paramount importance if we are to make a significant difference to the disproportionate rate of Aboriginal mental health concerns. All investigators contributed to this research domain to develop an increased understanding of mental health interventions that build resilience.

2) exploring and developing preferred clinical models of mental and chronic health service delivery

There is considerable concern about the gap in life expectancy between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians. Too often, physical health and lifestyle risks are addressed in isolation from the many mental health concerns that are known to plague Aboriginal people. We know Aboriginal people want holistic models of care, and this means better integrated medical and welfare services where a range of determinants of health can be adequately explored and addressed.

3) Development and testing of culturally aligned preventive care strategies

The research Team was well positioned to develop strategies that actively engage the Aboriginal community in preventive care. The majority of our group had been previously involved with successful prevention and health promotion research in Aboriginal communities.