The inaugural Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Conference will be held in Alice Springs this week, and is expected to feature discussions about strengths-based, community-driven solutions.
The conference will also hear of the importance of collective healing and secure funding arrangements, according to Summer May Finlay, a Yorta Yorta woman, Croakey contributor and PhD candidate.
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Summer May Finlay writes:
Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are strong and proud. Yet there probably isn’t an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family who hasn’t in some way been touched by suicide or self-harm.
An individual’s social and emotional well-being is closely strongly influenced by and connected to their family and communities’ well-being as well as a strong connection to culture and country.
As well, social determinants that negatively effect people include poverty, unemployment, lack of housing, lack of access to appropriate services and ongoing racism. These make significant contribution to a sense of helplessness, hopelessness and despair for some people and can result in destructive behaviours.
This is why the Inaugural National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Conference is bringing together people, particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, to discuss not only the appallingly high rates of suicide seen in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander statistics, but also how to work towards a healthy future for individuals, families and communities.
There has been much in the media recently about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and suicide. There was considerable information about the statistics, how terrible they are and the need to address the issue some how. There were many individual’s commentaries about what could be possible solutions.
What the conference aims to do is to bring together people who work in the space at a local level, experts and community to yarn about community-based solutions and the community supports which are required to develop and implement them.
No quick fixes
There cannot be one-size fits all approaches. There are no quick fixes. There are no solutions that can achieve the unachievable in a political cycle. Over 200 years of colonisation, dispossession, racism, discrimination and marginalisation have taken a toll on our communities.
No one knows these impacts better than Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people themselves; therefore Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-driven solutions are required.
The conference will be held on May 5-6 at the Alice Springs Conference Centre. Keynote speakers are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people including Stan Grant and Rosalie Kunoth- Monks. Other significant speakers include Professor Tom Calma, Co-Chair of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Advisory Group, Professor Pat Dudgeon, Project Director, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Evaluation Project (ATSISPEP) and Richard Weston, CEO of the Healing Foundation.
The conference organisers also recognised that we could learn from the experiences of Indigenous people from other countries and have included international representation in the program.
Professor Tom Calma AO, former Social Justice Commissioner, believes that the conference is significant because it prioritises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ perspectives.
“The real significance is that this the first National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Conference is that has been organised by us, with most of the speakers and workshops delivered by our people, and the majority of the participants are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” he said.
Focus on protective factors
Vicki O’Donnell, CEO of the Kimberley Aboriginal Health Services Ltd, is a member of the Conference Advisory Committee, and believes the significance of the conference is the strengths-based approach.
“We want to focus on interventions which promote cultural continuity, identity and language. We see these as protective factors. Part of that is building resilient, long-lasting programs,” Ms O’Donnell says.
Professor Calma agrees that a strengths-based approach is one of the key aspects of the conference, which is why there will be a focus on learning from the experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
“We have a number of objectives, and first and foremost is the opportunity for people to learn more about suicide prevention and to share their ideas,” he said. “This learning is not only for government or professionals but also enables communities to share their experiences and thoughts about what needs to be in place.”
Ms O’Donnell agrees that the priority is hearing from people who are working in the space or have lived experience.
She expects the conference will also profile the importance of collective healing, believing that we need to come together as a collective of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across the country to learn from and support each other.
“As Aboriginal people coming together, we can showcase the good work that’s been done,” she said. “We have common issues and gaps. The conference can also lead to collaborations across the country.”
Ms O’Donnell also expects the conference can assist non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and organisations working in the space. She said:
“For non-Aboriginal people, I would like for them to become more aware of the underlying issues [of suicide and self harm].
The other significant things I hope they take away is that for effective solutions, they need to be co-designed with Aboriginal families and communities. Also, I want to see the non-Aboriginal organisations who receive Aboriginal funding to facilitate a space for this to occur.”
Themes of the conference reflect a strengths-based approach, and include:
- Community Based Solutions
- Cultural Solutions
- Social Determinants
- Cultural Practices
- Data and Statistics
- Prison and its impacts
- Stolen Generations.
To ensure attendance from all around Australia and from people who might not have had support to attend, the conference offered scholarships or bursaries. Professor Calma said:
“We want to recognise the people who are doing great work, and there are some fantastic groups at the local level who are building peoples awareness and resilience. The participants are from all over the country and… through our bursary program, we were able to make sure that a variety of people from across the country are represented.
We also wanted to make sure that the minority groups of people within our communities are equally represented such as LGBTI, those with disabilities, people very remote communities with limited English and people with lived experience. We also wanted to make sure we had people represented from the stolen generations.”
One could be forgiven for thinking that the conference will be all serious; however, if there is one thing we are good at as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, it is being able to laugh together, even when things aren’t so great.
Professor Calma says that laughter will also be part of the conference: “One of the thing about Aboriginal people is we can laugh in tough times. The conference is a serious matter but there will be some lighter moments.”
Conference organisers recognise that the conversations may be difficult for some people, and have ensured there are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health professionals and psychologists to speak to conference attendees. Three counsellors at the conference will be from the Kimberley Aboriginal Health Services Ltd.
Social media tips
For those of you on social media – we encourage people to tweet, the hashtag is #ATSISPEP. Please keep in mind when engaging with social media that suicide and self-harm are sensitive issues.
Below are some tips on how to engage with social media and the sensitive issue of self-harm and suicide.
• Please do not record, stream or post video of people’s presentations without their express permission.
• Please don’t post tweets with people’s personal stories or photos without their permission.
• We encourage social media posts, which are strengths-based and solutions-focused in keeping with the conference tone.
• We encourage healthy conversations; however, we know trolls do exist and recommend you ignore, report or block them if they engage in negative debate.
Of course, there will be some take-home messages for governments too.
Ms O’Donnell said:
“I want the government to sit up and pay attention to the good work that’s happening in communities. There are some great programs but the funding isn’t sustainable. Every year we have to fight for funds. We shouldn’t have to do that. We don’t want to be in the same situation three years later.”
• For more information on the conference please visit the website: http://www.atsispep.sis.uwa.edu.au/natsispc-2016
• Also read this ABC story about a group travelling to the conference from Leonora.
• 2 May: This article was corrected to include the new name for the organisation formerly known as the Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services Council – the Kimberley Aboriginal Health Services Ltd
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For help or more information
For people who may be experiencing sadness or trauma, please visit these links to services and support
- If you are depressed or contemplating suicide, help is available at Lifeline on 131 114 or online. Alternatively you can call the Suicide Call Back Serviceon 1300 659 467.
- For young people 5-25 years, call kids help line1800 55 1800
- For resources on social and emotional wellbeing and mental health services in Aboriginal Australia, seehere.
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Declarations and acknowledgements
Summer May Finlay will report on the event for the Croakey Conference News Service. Her expenses for attending the conference have been covered with a bursary and she will also be presenting on Croakey’s #JustJustice project. We also acknowledge and thank Frank Meany of OneVision for his donation to cover Croakey’s editorial production and design costs associated with conference coverage.