A mental health carer is someone who provides support to a family member, partner or friend who is living with a mental health condition.

Some First Nations people don’t consider themselves as a carer, as they consider caring a normal part of family and community life.

Providing care is not only seen as being given by family, but by the wider community.

The way that mental health and mental health conditions are perceived by First Nations carers is very different to non-First Nations carers.

The way that mental health and mental health conditions are perceived by First Nations carers is very different to non-First Nations carers.

It is considered something that is part of their wider understanding of their social and emotional wellbeing.

This can mean that standard services and supports to treat mental health conditions may not be used by First Nations carers and the people that they care for.

Supports that look holistically at health and wellbeing, and the wider social issues that mental health conditions can cause, are favoured instead.

You don’t need to live with the person who is unwell, be the main source of care and support, or receive a payment to be considered a carer – you just need to help someone who needs care.

Am I A Mental Health Carer?
Barriers First Nations Carers Might Face

Barriers First Nations Carers Might Face

In First Nations communities, caring is usually embedded in the everyday responsibilities and duties of family and community life. This means that a carer is not just one person, it is the wider community, and tasks are usually shared among various family, kinship groups and community members (Carers Australia).

Because First Nations carers view caring for someone as a normal part of their everyday and community life, they don’t necessarily identify with the term ‘carer’, or know that there are support services that can help support them.

Many First Nations people prefer to use the term social and emotional wellbeing (SEWB) to speak about their health and wellbeing, which also encompasses mental health conditions. This term is used by many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to describe the social, emotional, spiritual and cultural wellbeing of a person. That includes a person’s identity and how it ties to country, culture, community, kin and family, which is important as these connections play a vital role for a person’s emotional and social wellbeing.

Many First Nations people see the terms mental health and mental illness as too medical to properly describe the range of things that influence someone’s social and emotional wellbeing (Gee, Dudgeon, Schultz, Hart, and Kelly 2014: 55-68).

SEWB is seen as a more holistic way at looking at someone’s health as it encompasses a wide range of factors that also includes how they relate and impact mental health and illness.

SEWB is seen as a more holistic way at looking at someone’s health as it encompasses a wide range of factors that also includes how they relate and impact mental health and illness.

It is often reported that carers and people with a lived experience of a mental health conditions from First Nations communities believe that mainstream health services will not respect their culture and/or meet their health needs (Nolan-Isles D, Macniven R, Hunter K, Gwynn J, Lincoln M, Moir R, Dimitropoulos Y, Taylor D, Agius T, Finlayson H, Martin R, Ward K, Tobin S, Gwynne K. 2021) and so don’t typically access those supports and services.

Several studies have reported that First Nations carers often experience other barriers and challenges in accessing support, including:

  • Language and communication barriers
  • Poor wellbeing and social isolation (Carers NSW)
  • Have a more intensive caring role than the general population (Carers NSW)
  • Discrimination and racism
  • Stigmatisation of people with a mental health condition, disability or an illness
  • Difficulties in accessing culturally appropriate services
  • Geographic barriers in accessing health and welfare services (Armstrong, Ironfield, Kelly and Dart, Arabena, Bond, Jorm, 2017: 65-87).

Helpful Tips For First Nations Carers

People from the First Nations communities may have different understandings of mental health, disability, and caring, including how healthcare and community services might be accessed and utilised. It is important to find out what works best for you as a carer, the supports that are available, and how to seek help.

Learn about the health system where you can

Visit your local doctor or community centre, and ask them to inform you on the types of services that are available, where and how you can access them. You should also ask them what your rights as a carer are.

You can also read about what your rights as a mental health carer are in our ‘what are my rights as a mental health carer?’ section on our website.

Be open minded about the support services that are available

For example, getting in touch with a peer mental health worker at your local hospital that can assist in navigating the mental health system, communicating with allied health staff if in hospital, and accessing culturally inclusive and appropriate information and resources for the person you are caring for.

Connect with other First Nations carers

Sometimes seeking help for yourself can be difficult, but people from many different communities have said that they felt better when they have sought help. Attending Yarning groups can help you get together for a chat with other First Nations carers, where you can share experiences and strategies with one another.

Make time for yourself

Learn to identify when you are starting to feel stressed and overwhelmed in your caring role.

For example, you might have a short temper, or experience mood swings. Use these signs as a reminder to take some ‘me’ time. It is important to take care of yourself too, not just the person you care for.

Speak to those around you

If you start to feel anxious or overwhelmed in your caring role, you might find it helpful to speak to others in your community about the impact your caring role is having on your emotional and mental health.

You can read more about taking care of yourself in our ‘taking care of yourself’ section of our website.

Support Services

The following organisations offer specific support for carers and people from First Nations communities. You can contact these organisations for information and support.

Yarning Groups

Women’s Yarning Group, Tahmoor: https://www.communitylinks.org.au/womens-yarning-circle-4/

Brungle Bush Tucker Garden and Yarning Circle: https://www.facebook.com/BrungleBushTuckerGarden/


13YARN are here to provide crisis support 24/7 to yarn with you without judgement and provide a confidential, culturally safe space to yarn about your needs, worries or concerns.

They will work with you to explore options for on-going support. You will be connected to another Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person who will understand where you are coming from and value knowing how to listen, without judgement or shame.

Website: 13yarn.org.au
Phone: 13 92 76

Indigenous Wellbeing Course, Mindspot

When you’re experiencing depression and anxiety, you may find that your home or work life are affected. You may struggle with motivation, simple tasks can feel overwhelming, and you may have lost interest in activities that you once enjoyed.

We understand that it can be difficult and lonely to feel like this. But you are not alone, and support is available. The Indigenous Wellbeing Course can help you gain better control over your symptoms, and learn key skills to improve your confidence, and empower you to get back to living a full and satisfying life.

The course is free and suitable to those aged 18+.

Mindspot Website: Wellbeing Course

Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS)

The Aboriginal Legal Service has been providing legal services to First Nations people since 1970. They help Aboriginal adults, young people and children who come into contact with police or the courts, youth detention or incarceration.

For help with police and court matters:
Phone: 1800 765 767

The ALS Family law practice provides specialist family law services in matters involving children.

Phone 1800 733 233 for family matters.

The Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) has two tenant advocacy services:

  • Western Aboriginal Tenants Advice and Advocacy Service (WATAAS)
    • Covering Central West, North West and Far West areas
    • Phone: 02 6881 5700
  • Greater Sydney Tenants Advice Service (GSATS)
WEAVE – Youth and Community Services

Weave is a not-for-profit organisation that provides a way up and a way forward supporting children, young people, families and communities facing complex situations.

Weave provides a range of services that include practical support, housing referral support, counselling, mental health services, drug and alcohol support, access to education and employment opportunities and assistance with connecting you to other services.

Address: Gadigal Land, Strawberry Hills, Malabar and Waterloo
Phone: (02) 9318 0539
Website: weave.org.au


Headspace run the Yarnspace program, which is an online community for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to access resources and connect with other people.

Website: headspace.org.au
Headspace Campaign: Yarn Safe

They also have a range of information for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people including strong mind, body, identity, culture and more.

Well Mob

Social, emotional and cultural wellbeing online resources for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People, including mind, body, culture, healing and more.

Website: wellmob.org.au
Phone: 1800 808 488

Financial Rights Legal Centre (FRLC)

The Financial Rights Legal Centre run Mob Strong Debt Help, which is a free legal advice service about money matters for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples from anywhere in a Australia.

They specialise in the law about consumer loans (like credit cards, pay day loans, car loans and home loans), banking, debt recovery and insurance (like car, home, travel, life, funeral, pet insurance).

Website: financialrights.org.au/mob-strong-debt-help
Phone: 1800 808 488
Hours: Monday – Friday, 9.30am – 4.30pm (excluding public holidays)

Message Book for Families

This resource provides stories and support for carers of people with a disability was produced to provide information to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families/carers of people with a disability.

View Message Book

Reimagine Today

A website by MHCC, for people affected by a mental health condition who wish to apply for support through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

The website guides users through the steps and information you need to make an application for NDIS support. They have specifically designed a hub on the NDIS for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People, as well as for carers and families.

Website: reimagine.today/aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander-people-hub

Disability in The Bush

An app that helps people with disability, their carers and support workers to understand what support is available through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

The app is available in several languages: Anindilyakwa, Arrernte, English, Pitjantjatjara and Yolgnu.

Looking After Mum YouTube Video

Looking after mum are two short animated videos that tell the story of Rosie, a young carer for her mother who lives with a mental health condition.

The video was produced to promote the Anglicare Northern Territory (NT) respite care services in East Arnhem Land, NT. The service allows the carer to receive support and have a break to maintain health and wellbeing.

Video: Looking After Mum
Video: Looking After Mum Yolngu Matha Version

General Carer Supports

The following organisations offer support for all carers. You can contact these organisations for information and support.

Carers NSW

Carers NSW is the peak body for all different types of carers in NSW. They run a range of educational workshops and events, social events, the young carers program, resources, and more.

Website: carersnsw.org.au
Phone: 02 9280 4744

Carer Gateway

Provides emotional, practical and financial support for carers, such as counselling, coaching, peer support groups, emergency respite, and more.

Website: carergateway.gov.au
Phone: 1800 422 737

Video: Providing support to First Nations carers
Video: Case study

The Family and Carer Mental Health Program

Run across NSW, this program offers free training and education workshops, support groups, social events, help with advocacy, and more.

For more info and how to access the program, check out the ‘Family and Carer Mental Health Program’ section on our website.

Head to Health

Head to Health can help you find digital mental health services from some of Australia’s most trusted mental health organisations.

Provided by the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care, Head to Health brings together apps, online programs, online forums, and phone services, as well as a range of digital information resources.

Whether you are trying to improve your own sense of wellbeing, looking for help with something that is bothering you, or helping someone you care about—Head to Health is a good place to start.

Website: headtohealth.gov.au

Carers Australia

Carers Australia is the national peak body representing Australia’s unpaid carers, advocating on their behalf to influence policies and services at a national level. Their vision is to support the contribution of carers at both an individual and community level.

Website: carersaustralia.com.au
Phone: (02) 6122 9900
Email: caa@carersaustralia.com.au

Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue provide information and support for anxiety, depression and suicide prevention for everyone in Australia. They offer free support via phone or online chat with a mental health professional, online forums, mental health coaching, stories, and more.

Website: beyondblue.org.au
Phone: 1300 22 4636

For additional services, check out our ‘Carer Support Directory’.


Armstrong, G., Ironfield, N., Kelly, C. M., Dart, K., Arabena, K., Bond, K., & Jorm, A. F. (2017). Re-development of mental health first aid guidelines for supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who are engaging in non-suicidal self-injury. BMC Psychiatry, 17, Article 300. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-017-1465-1

Gee, G., Dudgeon, P., Schultz, C., Hart, A., Kelly, K. (2014). Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social and emotional wellbeing. In Dudgeon, P. Milroy, H. Walker, R. (Ed.), Working together: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health and wellbeing principles and practice (2nd ed.,pp. 55-68). Canberra: Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Nolan-Isles D, Macniven R, Hunter K, Gwynn J, Lincoln M, Moir R, Dimitropoulos Y, Taylor D, Agius T, Finlayson H, Martin R, Ward K, Tobin S, Gwynne K. Enablers and Barriers to Accessing Healthcare Services for Aboriginal People in New South Wales, Australia. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Mar 15;18(6):3014. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18063014. PMID: 33804104; PMCID: PMC7999419.

Sivertsen N., Harrington A., Hamiduzzaman M. Exploring Aboriginal aged care residents’ cultural and spiritual needs in South Australia. BMC Health Serv Res. 2019 Jul 12;19(1):477. doi: 10.1186/s12913-019-4322-8. PMID: 31299950; PMCID: PMC6624992.

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