Research projects

Development of depression first aid standards for Indigenous Australians

Principal Researchers

Professor Tony Jorm, Ms Laura Hart, Mr Len Kanowski


ORYGEN Research Centre, Department of Psychiatry, The University of Melbourne



Award Type

Beyond Blue Victorian Centre of Excellence

Project completion year


Project brief

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) guidelines and courses teach members of the public to give early help to people developing a mental disorder and to help in mental health crisis situations, such as assisting someone who is suicidal.  They follow a model successfully applied to conventional first aid training. 

Existing courses are successful in improving knowledge about mental health and confidence in offering help, but may not be suitable for particular cultural groups who have different approaches to understanding health and mental illness.  This project developed MHFA Guidelines for Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people experiencing or developing depression or related disorders.  A key aim was to provide consensus on how to approach MHFA for Aboriginal people in a way that is culturally appropriate and mindful of Aboriginal concepts of health and well-being. 

From a systematic search of lay and medical literatures, a working group produced first aid action statements and asked Aboriginal experts in mental health to rate the action statements as either “essential”, “important”, “don’t know/depends”, “unimportant” or “should not be included”.  Items that were rated as either essential or important by 90 per cent or more of the panel were endorsed as MHFA actions and used to draft the guidelines.

Key findings

Four guidelines were produced relating specifically to providing MHFA to an Aboriginal person and covering:

  • Depression
  • suicidal thoughts and behaviours
  • deliberate self-injury
  • psychosis.

Guidelines relating to the cultural aspects of providing MHFA to an Aboriginal person were also developed.

Implications for policy, practice and further research

The guidelines aim to be promoted as national standards of first aid when helping an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person who is developing or experiencing depression or a related disorder.


Electronic copies of the guidelines can be accessed via the MHFA website ( ).

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