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IMH5001 Philosophy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health

Semester 1, 2013 External Toowoomba
Units : 1
Faculty or Section : Faculty of Arts
School or Department : Centre for Australian Indigenous Knowledges
Version produced : 21 July 2014

Contents on this page


Examiner: Myra Singh
Moderator: Kaye Price


Indigenous Australians' concepts of health, both physical and mental, differ from those of Western society. This course centres on Indigenous ways of talking about health and illness, and their views of life and their experience of distress, a view encapsulated in the term 'holistic'. Reference is made to the original statement about the nature of 'holistic health' contained in NAHS, 1989. The ultimate aim of the course is for mainstream health workers to take account of the Indigenous holistic view of health and health problems in assessment and treatment services, in specific Indigenous cultural settings. Thus Indigenous health issues (especially mental health issues) pertaining to a holistic concept of health is the focus of this course. Indigenous people do not see illness, mental or otherwise as discrete. Instead, well-being is a holistic, collective issue, with specific individual health problems being of little relevance if not considered part of wider social, spiritual and community health. Indigenous concepts of health emphasise the importance of family and community well-being, including the benefits of whole-of-life view, traditional healing, socialisation and cultural practices, and self-determination in finding local solutions to local problems. The meaning of health to Indigenous people is multi-dimensional and embraces all aspects of life and living. This clearly differentiates the Indigenous view of health/mental health from Western-dominated models. In the past, services have failed from the outset, as they have not acknowledged that Indigenous people view health differently from mainstream society. The traditional Western approach of considering and treating a specific physical or mental problem of an individual, is seen as not meeting the real needs of Indigenous people, who take a more holistic approach to mental health and emotional and spiritual well-being, with a corresponding high emphasis on family and community. This course addresses this key concept as a vital component in a collaborative approach to more positive mental health outcomes for Indigenous people. Importantly, too, the course includes coverage of this holistic conception of health and well-being in relation to a cyclic concept of life-death-life.


The course centres on the wider view Indigenous Australians have of health (both physical and mental) compared with the Western medical model of health, and the importance of culturally appropriate strategies and interventions in assessment, diagnosis and treatment of Indigenous mental health problems and disorders. Students are cautioned not make generalisations and assumptions about Indigenous people, as there are many Indigenous groups in Australia, with varying cultural issues. The problems inherent in gaining an in-depth understanding of 'culture' in general are emphasised, and students will move away from the belief that cultural competence is readily achievable. It needs to be acknowledged that non-Indigenous people are unable to fully understand the intricate cultural and traditional ways of Indigenous people and that Indigenous staff, with their knowledge of cultural dynamics, are indispensable in providing basic mental health intervention. Students will also become equipped with knowledge of how to gain greater knowledge of, and respect for, particular Indigenous cultural groups within Australia.


On successful completion of the course students will be able to:

  1. understand the wider concept of health embraced by Indigenous people as holistic, encompassing the broad conceptual framework of social, emotional and cultural well-being of the whole community
  2. acknowledge the need to respect the Indigenous meaning of mental health and diagnosis
  3. support the Indigenous mental health holistic framework to improve health outcomes
  4. demonstrate knowledge and understanding of a range of culturally appropriate initiatives in the provision of health care
  5. understand that, for a complex of reasons, Indigenous populations are at high risk of continued mental health problems and misdiagnosis
  6. analyse the nexus between Indigenous concepts of health and the importance of delivery of appropriate cultural mental health services
  7. recognise the cultural differences between different Aboriginal and different Torres Strait Islander communities
  8. appreciate the frustrations of Indigenous people to access and/ or deliver appropriate mental health services to the community
  9. critically examine the issues relating to intergenerational impacts on Indigenous people's mental health


Description Weighting(%)
1. Indigenous holistic view of health; whole-of life view; cyclical concept of life-death-life 7.00
2. Physical health, spiritual health, cultural health, kinship an health, psychological health, land and holistic health 7.00
3. Western and Indigenous understandings of health 7.00
4. Unifying issues of health - Alma Ata and Ways Forward 7.00
5. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health pre-settlement 7.00
6. Concepts of health post-settlement for Indigenous Australians 7.00
7. Cultural beliefs and their impacts on health 7.00
8. Social determinants of health, including family violence and imprisonment 7.00
9. Defining social and emotional well-being incorporating loss and grief 7.00
10. Intergenerational carry-over and social issues 7.00
11. Western models of clinical examination and assessment 7.00
12. The blending of Indigenous and Western methods of analysis and treatment 7.00
13. The burden of health for Torres Strait Islander people 7.00
14. The experience of Maori health 9.00

Text and materials required to be purchased or accessed

ALL textbooks and materials available to be purchased can be sourced from USQ's Online Bookshop (unless otherwise stated). (

Please contact us for alternative purchase options from USQ Bookshop. (

  • Taylor K & Guerin, P 2010, Health care and Indigenous Australians: Cultural safety in practice, Palgrave Macmillan, Melbourne, Australia.
  • Thackhrah, R & Scott, K 2011, Indigenous Australian Health and Culture: An introduction for health profesisonals, Pearson Longman, Sydney, Australia.

Reference materials

Reference materials are materials that, if accessed by students, may improve their knowledge and understanding of the material in the course and enrich their learning experience.
  • Grbich, C 2004, Health in Australia: sociological philosophy issues, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne.
  • Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission 1997, Bringing them home: report of the national inquiry into the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, Sydney.
  • Hunter, E 1993, Aboriginal health and history: power and prejudice in remote Australia, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne.
  • National Aboriginal Health Strategy Working Party 1989, National Aboriginal health strategy, AGPS, Canberra.
  • Saggers, S & Gray D 1991, Aboriginal health and society: the traditional and contemporary Aboriginal struggle for better health, Allen & Unwin, Sydney.

Student workload requirements

Activity Hours
Assessments 40.00
Directed Study 35.00
Private Study 90.00

Assessment details

Description Marks out of Wtg (%) Due Date Notes
PARTICIPATION 10 10 07 Mar 2013 (see note 1)
ESSAY 100 50 12 Apr 2013
ASSIGNMENT 100 40 31 May 2013

  1. Participate in Online discussion at end of each module.

Important assessment information

  1. Attendance requirements:
    There are no attendance requirements for this course. However, it is the studentsí responsibility to study all material provided to them or required to be accessed by them to maximise their chance of meeting the objectives of the course and to be informed of course-related activities and administration. Students must attend and complete the requirements of the Workplace Health and Safety training program for this course where required

  2. Requirements for students to complete each assessment item satisfactorily:
    To satisfactorily complete an individual assessment item a student must achieve at least 50% of the marks

  3. Penalties for late submission of required work:
    If students submit assignments after the due date without (prior) approval of the examiner then a penalty of 5% of the total marks gained by the student for the assignment may apply for each working day late up to ten working days at which time a mark of zero may be recorded.

  4. Requirements for student to be awarded a passing grade in the course:
    To be assured of receiving a passing grade a student must achieve at least 50% of the total weighted marks available for the course.

  5. Method used to combine assessment results to attain final grade:
    The final grades for students will be assigned on the basis of the aggregate of the weighted marks obtained for each of the summative assessment items in the course.

  6. Examination information:
    There is no examination in this course.

  7. Examination period when Deferred/Supplementary examinations will be held:
    As there are no examinations in this course, there will be no deferred or supplementary examinations.

  8. University Student Policies:
    Students should read the USQ policies: Definitions, Assessment and Student Academic Misconduct to avoid actions which might contravene University policies and practices. These policies can be found at

Assessment notes

  1. The due date for an assignment is the date by which a student must despatch the assignment to the USQ. The onus is on the student to provide proof of the despatch date, if requested by the Examiner

  2. Students must retain a copy of each item submitted for assessment. This must be despatched to USQ within 24 hours if required by the Examiner

  3. In accordance with University Policy, the Examiner may grant an extension of the due date of an assignment in extenuating circumstances.

  4. If electronic submission of assessments is specified for the course, students will be notified of this in the course Introductory Book and on the USQ Study Desk. All required electronic submission must be made through the Assignment Drop Box located on the USQ Study Desk for the course, unless directed otherwise by the examiner of the course. The due date for an electronically submitted assessment is the date by which a student must electronically submit the assignment. The assignment files must be submitted by 11.55pm on the due date using USQ time (as displayed on the clock on the course home page; that is, Australian Eastern Standard Time).

  5. If the method of assessment submission is by written, typed or printed paper-based media students should (i) submit to the Faculty Office for students enrolled in the course in the on-campus mode, or (ii) mail to the USQ for students enrolled in the course in the external mode. The due date for the assessment is the date by which a student must (i) submit the assessment for students enrolled in the on-campus mode, or (ii) mail the assessment for students enrolled in the external mode.

  6. The Faculty will NOT normally accept submission of assessments by facsimile or email.

  7. Students who do not have regular access to postal services for the submission of paper-based assessments, or regular access to Internet services for electronic submission, or are otherwise disadvantaged by these regulations may be given special consideration. They should contact the examiner of the course to negotiate such special arrangements prior to the submission date.

  8. Students who do not have regular access to postal services for the submission of paper-based assessments, or regular access to Internet services for electronic submission, or are otherwise disadvantaged by these regulations may be given special consideration. They should contact the examiner of the course to negotiate such special arrangements prior to the submission date.

  9. Students who have undertaken all of the required assessments in a course but who have failed to meet some of the specified objectives of a course within the normally prescribed time may be awarded one of the temporary grades: IM (Incomplete - Make up), IS (Incomplete - Supplementary Examination) or ISM (Incomplete -Supplementary Examination and Make up). A temporary grade will only be awarded when, in the opinion of the examiner, a student will be able to achieve the remaining objectives of the course after a period of non directed personal study.

  10. Students who, for medical, family/personal, or employment-related reasons, are unable to complete an assignment or to sit for an examination at the scheduled time may apply to defer an assessment in a course. Such a request must be accompanied by appropriate supporting documentation. One of the following temporary grades may be awarded IDS (Incomplete - Deferred Examination; IDM (Incomplete Deferred Make-up); IDB (Incomplete - Both Deferred Examination and Deferred Make-up).

  11. Students may be assigned an "Incomplete" grade to signify that all the requirements of the course have not yet been met. Students who are graded "I" can pass the course by successfully completing such additional work as prescribed by the examiner by a given date. Students who have been awarded an IM, ISM, IDM or IDB grade must access information regarding further work to be completed, in the Student Centre of U Connect. The Grades Page in the Student Centre contains information about further work to be completed. Students who have not completed the additional work to the satisfaction of the examiner by the given date will receive the appropriate Failing grade.

Other requirements

  1. Students can expect that questions in assessment items in this course may draw upon knowledge and skills that they can reasonably be expected to have acquired before enrolling in the course. This includes knowledge contained in pre-requisite courses and appropriate communication, information literacy, analytical, critical thinking, problem solving or numeracy skills. Students who do not possess such knowledge and skills should not expect to achieve the same grades as those students who do possess them.