Intersection of Racism and Mental Well-being for Aboriginal Young People

Intersection of Racism and Mental Well-being for Aboriginal Young People

The 2018 Australian Rural & Remote Mental Health Symposium will be held this month over 15-17 October at the Hotel Grand Chancellor, Hobart, Tasmania.

Joining us at the conference is Professor Cheryl Kickett-Tucker, Fellow/Founding Director at Curtin University and Pindi Pindi Ltd, Centre for Research Excellence in Aboriginal Wellbeing who will present on ‘Intersection of Racism and Mental Well-being for Aboriginal Young People’.


The untimely death of an Aboriginal young person in 2016 highlighted community concern for stronger engagement with youth and the Kalgoorlie Youth Project (named Guthoo, meaning we are one) aimed to describe the perceptions, experiences and aspirations of Aboriginal youth.
A mixed methods design using community participatory action framework was used and consisted of 3 stages: 1. Instrument Development; 2a). Pilot study of the Guthoo instrument, 2b) Full scale study and; 3. Dissemination with Youth Summit.

The Guthoo Instrument comprised 170 items measuring both the current experiences and the current needs of the young person across each of 12 key themes of individual and community well-being. A 5-point Likert scale ranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree was used. To ascertain participants’ wellbeing, we adapted the K5-Kessler Psychological Distress Scale.
192 young people (11-17yrs) were surveyed, accounting for 71% of the estimated total population of Aboriginal young people aged 11-17 years. 51.6% were females and males accounted for 48.4%. Most were born in Kalgoorlie-Boulder (69%) and 1 in 10 did not attend school, however of those who attended, 60% attended a co-educational state secondary school.

Results showed the daily struggles of racism impacted young people’s ability and confidence to live their lives. The interplay of racism with so many domains of a young person’s life meant that they lived their life with high psychological distress, were faced with physical, social and verbal abuse, high exposure to cigarette, alcohol, drug use and crime, extreme extended bouts of boredom, no employment prospects, treated with disrespect and discrimination, lack of personal income, no personal transport and finally reluctance to use mainstream services.

Key Learnings:
1. Racism is interwoven through all wellbeing domains of Aboriginal young people and children.
2. Vulnerability and trauma experienced by Aboriginal young people and children as a result of daily racism stunts wellbeing.
3. Service engagement, recruitment and sustainability for vulnerable traumatised Aboriginal young people and children requires cultural security and regular audits.


Prof. Cheryl Kickett-Tucker is Wadjuk Noongar Traditional Owner, scholar and community practitioner. She is currently a Research Fellow of Curtin University and Executive Director of Pindi Pindi Ltd, Centre for Research Excellence in Aboriginal Wellbeing. Cheryl developed a series of 5 culturally appropriate instruments for racial identity and self-esteem across the lifespan. Her research strength has been the translation of her work to the Aboriginal community, most notably Kaat Koort n Hoops a basketball lifestyle program for 4-16 year old children.

For more information on the upcoming 2018 Australian Rural & Remote Mental Health Symposium please visit

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