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Intergenerational trauma and mental health

Leilani Darwin, Stacey Vervoort, Emma Vollert and Shol Blustein


The link between exposure to trauma and increased risk of poor mental health is well established. Where trauma is unacknowledged, it can result in the re-traumatisation of later generations. The colonisation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the oppressive practices that followed has resulted in a legacy of unaddressed intergenerational trauma. This prolonged and continuing exposure to trauma and risk factors places Indigenous Australians at a heightened risk of mental ill-health.

This paper aims to define the link between intergenerational trauma and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ mental health and to identify current best-practice policies and programs to address this issue. A comprehensive review of electronic databases was conducted to identify relevant literature. The paper adopts an Indigenous Standpoints approach meaning that Indigenous research and voices are privileged within the report. The review highlights that there is a strong policy framework to address Indigenous Australians’ social and emotional wellbeing (SEWB), but few that explicitly address the interaction between intergenerational trauma and SEWB. Additionally, trauma-informed and healing-aware approaches are essential to program success in addressing intergenerational trauma. Finally, there should be a focus on funding locally developed and Indigenous-led programs that promote community governance and self-determination.