Transforming Indigenous Mental Health and Wellbeing

Dudgeon, P., Bray, A., Walker, R., Wright, M., & Sutherland, S. (2023). Caring for Country: Indigenous, wellbeing, law, and environmental justice. In R. Moore (Eds.), Climate Change and Mental Health Equality. Springer Publishing.


Climate change is emerging as a global determinant of mental health and wellbeing impacting existing and escalating socio-economic inequities (Charlson, et al, 2021). There is clear evidence that the mental health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Indigenous peoples in general are being adversely impacted by climate change (HEAL Network & CRE-STRIDE 2021; Middleton et al. 2020; Vecchio, Dickson & Zhang 2022). For Indigenous Peoples the complex environmental devastations brought about by climate change are part of a continuum of colonial destruction of land and people: ecocide and genocide are interconnected mechanisms of mass destruction (Crook, Short & South 2018).

While new psychological constructs such as Solastalgia (Albrecht 2007) and ‘ecological grief’ (Cunsolo & Ellis 2018) seek to map the links between climate change and mental health and wellbeing, for Indigenous people’s deep grief over the loss and destruction of land, Country and totems (Fauna and Flora) is a collective intergenerational trauma spanning centuries (Morgan, Mia & Kwaymullina 2010). Fundamental to many relational eco-centric holistic Indigenous world-views or philosophies of flourishing is an ontological and axiological connection to Country and land. Globally, indigenous peoples are guardians of some 80% of Mother Earth’s biodiversity and continue to develop eco-centric knowledge systems – philosophies and practices – which support a harmonious and flourishing balance between people and planet (Redvers et al. 2020, 2022). This chapter explores the traumatic impact on mental health and wellbeing through the loss and destruction of Country and Land as well as the protective and restorative benefits of connecting to and caring for Country and Land through the prism of an Australian Indigenous paradigm of eco-centric flourishing called social and emotional wellbeing (SEWB) (Dudgeon, Bray, D’Costa & Walker 2017; Gee et al. 2014; Sutherland & Adams 2019). Evidence which validates the protective mental health and wellbeing benefits of connection to Country is presented and pathways which support a decolonial eco-centric Indigenous futurity explored. As the wisdom holders of one of Mother Earths oldest continuing and developing knowledge systems of eco-centric flourishing, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their psychology of SEWB have much to teach about resisting and recovering from the colonial anthropocene. Finally, this chapter recognises, (along with peak international bodies such as the United Nations (UN) and World Health Organisation (WHO) that solutions to the mental health and SEWB impact of climate change involves place-based and large scale structural changes and in this context continued Indigenous climate change resistance and environmental advocacy at local and international levels is explored as part of the solution (Bray & Dudgeon 2020; Redvers et al. 2022).