Research projects

The Family Business: Improving the understanding and treatment of post traumatic stress disorder among incarcerated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women

Principal researchers

Dr Edward Heffernan
Ms Kimina Andersen
Dr Stuart Kinner
Dr Andrew Aboud
Ms Coralie Ober
Ms Angela Scotney


Queensland Forensic Mental Health Service



Award type

beyondblue National Priority Driven Research Program

Project completion year


Key messages

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are 20 times more likely than non-Indigenous women to be incarcerated, and the majority of those who are incarcerated suffer from mental health issues. This is a serious and poorly understood public health problem.
  • The most common mental health condition in incarcerated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Almost half of the women we assessed in custody had this condition.
  • PTSD in these women often had its onset in adolescence, was debilitating and chronic, and was complicated by the presence of other mental health conditions such as depression, psychosis and alcohol and cannabis dependence.
  • PTSD is often misdiagnosed or not diagnosed, particularly among Indigenous women for whom the presentation of the condition is influenced by unique cultural, historical and social factors. Very few Indigenous women in custody with PTSD have received any treatment for the condition.
  • Central to the development of PTSD for many of these women are experiences of the traumatic and unexpected death of a loved one, sexual assault (for many occurring prior to the age of 10) and being the victim of serious violence.
  • There are clear links between the extremely high rates of mental disorder in this group, limited access to appropriate mental health care in community and custody, and the vast over-representation of Indigenous women in custody.
  • It is critical that culturally capable mental health care is made available to Indigenous women in custody and as they transition back to the community.
Download the final report

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