Grief, loss and trauma

An understanding of historical trauma and loss is one of the guiding principles that underpins the current framework for the social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people [33834].

Grief and loss

Grief describes how a person feels after the loss of someone or something that is very important to them [28897]. The grief experienced from a loss affects the whole person, including their mind, spirit, and body, as well as the relationships they have with other people [43222].

After a significant loss, it is important for a grieving person to look after themselves. Things that can help include:

  • understanding that grieving takes time
  • accepting the help of family and friends
  • talking about the loss [43222].

It can also help to practice culture, do painting, visit Country, talk to ancestors, and meditate or pray [31203].

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people may experience grief that is multi-layered, as high rates of premature passing mean people may be grieving multiple losses at one time [31971] [8608]. In addition, the passing of an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person may be grieved by many others, as communities are highly integrated and bereavements can have widespread impact [27974].

Grief can be experienced for loss other than the passing of a loved one [40671]. This may include grief at the loss of a child who has been removed from family [31971], loss of a loved one who has been incarcerated [31971], and loss of land, language, knowledge, spirituality and culture [40671] [29068] [31971].

Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals and organisations are working to heal the grief caused by current and ancestral losses. Examples include:

  • Link-Up, which helps Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have been separated from family and culture to reunite, participate in shared grieving, and re-establish Aboriginal identity and kinship [8608]
  • the work of Aboriginal Griefologist Rosemary Wanganeen, who developed the Seven Phases to Integrating Loss and Grief model to support counselling with Aboriginal people [29068]
  • the Healing Foundation, which amplifies the voices and lived experience of Stolen Generations survivors and their families [37670].

More information about grief and loss can be found on these sections of the Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet:

Trauma

Trauma is a word used to describe symptoms and experiences of stressful and intense life events that overwhelm a person’s ability to cope [33834].

Trauma can affect a person’s thoughts, emotions and physical wellbeing [43251]. Its aftermath can include intense feelings of grief, anger, sadness, guilt or fear. It can lead to memory problems, difficulty concentrating, difficulty coping with life’s routine stresses, poor sleep, and changes to appetite and social life.

Collective trauma is the experience of trauma shared by a group of people, including whole communities [40151]. Collective trauma is one of the terms used to explain the shared and traumatic impact of colonisation on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Collective or historical trauma that is passed between and within generations is known as intergenerational or transgenerational trauma [33834] [41496] [5052].

Because the traumatic events experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are shared and their impact is intergenerational, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander scholars have said that healing should focus not just on individual treatment but on processes for the whole group or community [29079] [41496] [36986]. It is also important that services that work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are trauma-aware and healing-informed, and approach interactions in ways that actively seek to avoid re-traumatisation [33834] [40151] [30081].

The promising practice section of the HealthInfoNet’s Healing portal describes current programs that are successfully working to heal intergenerational trauma across Australia.

More information about trauma can also be found on these sections of the Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet:

References

Key resources

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