Objectives: A considerable gap exists in health and social emotional well-being between Indigenous people and non-Indigenous Australians. Recent research in stress neurobiology highlights biological pathways that link early adversity and traumas as well as life stresses to ill health. We argue that the neurobiological stress response and its maladaptive changes, termed allostatic load, provide a useful framework to understand how adversity leads to physical and mental illness in Indigenous people. In this paper we review the biology of allostatic load and make links between stress-induced systemic hormonal, metabolic and immunological changes and physical and mental illnesses.
Conclusions: Exposure to chronic stress throughout life results in an increased allostatic load that may contribute to a number of metabolic, cardiovascular and mental disorders that shorten life expectancy in Indigenous Australians.
Keywords: allostatic load; chronic stress; health; indigenous peoples; mental health; well-being.
© The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists 2015.