Introduction by Croakey: Circumstances permitting, the team behind a new online Manual of Resources in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention plan a national roadtrip later this year to discuss the resource with communities, service organisations and state and national governments, and explore its wider use.
Professor Pat Dudgeon, Julie Robotham and Dr Ee Pin Chang from the Centre of Best Practice in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention, write below that the team is eager to partner with organisations that wish to pilot the manual in new contexts.
Also, make sure to follow @WePublicHealth next week, when Professor Pat Dudgeon and @cbpatsisp will be guest tweeting to cover NAIDOC Week, with the theme of Heal Country, and related social and emotional wellbeing issues.
Pat Dudgeon, Julie Robotham and Ee Pin Chang write:
Suicide deaths among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continue to increase and are an unrelenting tragedy for families and communities.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (Indigenous) people take their own lives at twice the rate of other Australians. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among Indigenous males (vs 10th non-Indigenous) and the seventh leading cause of death for Indigenous females (vs 23rd non-Indigenous).
Suicide rates peak disproportionately young for Indigenous people; the median age for the suicide death of an Indigenous person is 29, while suicide accounts for one-third of all deaths of Indigenous children aged 5 to 17 years, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, and is the largest cause of Indigenous child deaths.
Overall, the same ABS figures show the Indigenous suicide rate increased from 21.3 to 24.6 per 100,000 people between the first and second halves of the decade from 2010-2019; by 2019 it had risen to 27.1 per 100,000.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project (ATSISPEP) established the connection between suicide and experiences of colonisation, structural racism and continuing social and economic disadvantage.
ATSISPEP described how these experiences undermine Indigenous people’s social and emotional wellbeing – which encompasses the health of our bodies, minds, spirits, families, communities, Countries and cultures.
It demonstrated that programs that include and restore culture – through language, dance, art and craft, kinship and community – can strengthen our people’s social and emotional wellbeing and protect against suicide. It also showed that Indigenous leadership, governance, empowerment and self-determination are essential components in the success of wellbeing and suicide prevention programs.
The evidence for cultural interventions continues to grow strongly. Recent research from Griffith University clearly shows lower rates of suicide among young Indigenous Queenslanders in communities where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have greater engagement with cultural events, ceremonies and community-controlled organisations, and where they experienced less discrimination.
These ideas, first articulated in ATSISPEP, are now widely accepted and are at the heart of Indigenous suicide prevention policy, including the draft National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Strategy.
This Indigenous-led strategy sets out a roadmap for rebuilding Indigenous suicide prevention services through Indigenous organisations and workforces, acknowledging the particular needs of youth, LGBTIQ+ and members of the Stolen Generations.
There is also strong support for these principles in the Fifth National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan, and the recent federal Budget commitment to prioritise Indigenous community-controlled organisations as preferred providers of suicide prevention services is certainly a step in the right direction.
But change at a policy and investment level inevitably takes time, and while lives are still being lost we also need immediate responses to the crisis.
The online Manual of Resources in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention, launched in June, brings together practical resources and tools that embody the ATSISPEP principles and presents them for a broad audience, enhancing their potential to save lives.
The Manual includes videos, podcasts, graphics downloadable resources, checklists, decision tools and case studies for:
- individuals, families, Elders and community members
- clinicians and other front-line workforces; and
- Primary Health Networks and other funding organisations.
The project responded to feedback that while people supported the ATSISPEP ideas, they often did not know what to do in practice when faced with a suicidal crisis or an opportunity to promote wellbeing.
Extensive consultation last year, through online workshops, youth-led workshops and additional meetings with clinical groups and crisis response, yielded valuable insights, some of them unexpected.
Participants did not ask for new information resources; they said excellent materials were already available on the Internet, but they needed help to navigate them – to know for sure what was current, safe and culturally responsive.
Community members and organisations were particularly enthusiastic about the role of videos and podcasts that describe how people have overcome challenging times by drawing on cultural strengths, so the Manual includes many multimedia resources produced by communities.
The resources in the Manual support strong, positive, culturally responsive actions to prevent suicide. Nearly all were developed by or with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, prioritising Indigenous voices, which is crucial to self-determination and empowerment.
In total the Manual includes about 400 downloads and links, and it represents the first time such a comprehensive collection has been brought together for so many different audiences.
Importantly, the Manual offers guidance for mainstream clinicians, workforces, service provider organisations, funders and policy-makers. The CBPATSISP supports direct funding of Indigenous organisations, but until that occurs, mainstream organisations can play an important role in preventing Indigenous suicide by delivering and commissioning services in ways that support and empower Indigenous people and communities.
The Manual includes tools to help mainstream organisations develop their cultural responsiveness, and prompt them to deliver services that are fully inclusive of Indigenous clients.
Towards the end of this year the CBPATSISP team hopes to travel around Australia to demonstrate the Manual to communities, service organisations and state and national governments, and explore it is being used in practice. There are already indications that it could be used in training modules and clinical consultations, and we are eager to partner with organisations that wish to pilot it in new contexts.
The online Manual is a living resource and we are committed to keeping it current, relevant and effective so it can contribute to reducing suicides. Please tell us what you think. There is a feedback link at the bottom of every page.
Professor Pat Dudgeon was born and raised in Darwin and is descended from the Bardi people in the Kimberley. As well as being Director of CBPATSISP, she is also a Chief Investigator on an NHMRC Million Minds Mission Grant, Transforming Indigenous Mental Health and Wellbeing.
Julie Robotham is a specialist in strategic policy and community engagement, focusing on health and human services. She joined the CBPATSISP in 2019.
Dr Ee Pin Chang is research officer at CBPATSISP and completed her PhD in psychology at the University of Western Australia (UWA) in 2019.
Some people may have suicidal thoughts when things are too hard and painful. With help, you can overcome these thoughts and stay safe.
If someone is in immediate danger please dial 000 as soon as possible.
If you or someone close to you is in distress, you can find support by calling one of these helplines now:
Lifeline Australia – Call 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service – Call 1300 659 467
Kids Helpline – Call 1800 551 800
Mens Line Australia – Call 1300 789 978
Open Arms Veterans & Families Counselling – Call 1800 011 046 or visit their website
Qlife – LGBTI peer support and referral – Call 1800 184 527
National Indigenous Postvention Service – Call 1800 805 801
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