Transforming Indigenous Mental Health and Wellbeing

Dudgeon, P., Bray, A., & Walker, R. (2023). Embracing the emerging Indigenous psychology of flourishing. Nature Reviews Psychology


Indigenous psychology draws on the oldest continuing knowledge systems but remains
largely ignored by dominant Western psychological theories and practices. This
exclusion results in ongoing negative effects on Indigenous social and emotional wellbeing and requires urgent decolonization efforts.

The dominant Western approach to psychology is premised on the cultural frame of individualism, which decontextualizes individuals and overestimates self-agency. This individualistic approach risks pathologizing victims of injustice and diagnosing the human cost of broader social ills as individual deficits. Historically, the Western cultural frame has also supported ‘epistemic violence’ or the marginalization, suppression and extinction of Indigenous psychologies and knowledge systems.

Western concepts of flourishing tend to focus on positive emotion, engagement, meaningful accomplishment, and psychological and social functioning for wellbeing. Colonial discourses of scientific positivism, neoliberal individualistic pathology, and corporatism underscore these theories and practices. Western psychology lacks
the critical role of kinship and collective wellbeing and “the interplay of spirituality, well-being and nature” that are core to Indigenous psychologies. By suppressing Indigenous therapeutic place-based knowledge systems of flourishing, Western psychology can support and mask structural violence against Indigenous people. There is an urgent need
to decolonize these approaches to provide culturally secure and just care to Indigenous peoples, who experience substantially higher rates of suicide, self-harm, poor mental health, transgenerational grief, loss and trauma, and chronic illnesses than non-Indigenous populations.

Decolonization of psychology requires researchers to learn from the enduring and diverse Indigenous knowledge and healing systems that have traditionally facilitated the flourishing of Indigenous populations. Big foundational questions regarding what makes a life worth living, how to derive collective value, and how people and the planet can coexist in harmony have been central to Indigenous worldviews and community governance for millennia. These same questions now inform emerging paradigms within contemporary Indigenous Australian psychology, which should be embraced to address ongoing harms to Indigenous individuals.