Leaders seek clarity on suicide prevention funding in Budget

Dr Tracy Westerman is a proud Njamal woman from the Pilbara region of Western Australia. Tracy is the Western Australia’s Australian of the Year for 2018, recognised for spending over two decades working to reduce the burden of mental ill health and suicide in Aboriginal communities.

Last night’s Federal Budget saw a commitment of $5 million over four years to improve suicide prevention initiatives in Indigenous communities.

The initiatives would involve young Indigenous leaders guaranteeing services and support for Indigenous Australians in a culturally competent and appropriate manner.

The funding will allow communities’ needs to be catered to on a personalised level.

With rates of Indigenous suicide skyrocketing, some feel this new funding provision may be misguided.

Njamal woman and founder of Indigenous Psychological Services Dr Tracy Westerman said $5 million seems low over four years and that she is more concerned with evaluating the impact of programs.

“We need some measure of [program] impacts which we have historically not had,” Dr Westerman said.

She said it is important for programs to focus on factors to reduce suicide and to ensure these programs are measurable.

Centre of Best Practice in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention (CBPATSISP) said in a statement that more funding and details around funding are needed to take the best approach to Indigenous suicide.

CEO of the Kimberley Land Council Nolan Hunter agreed, saying the intentions behind funding have to be clear.

“There has to be some clarity of expectations of what the government is providing support for,” Mr Hunter said.

Indigenous youth leading the way

Mr Hunter said it is ‘tall ask’ to expect Indigenous youth to achieve more than the combined effort of previous providers in the past.

“Indigenous youth might be expected to do more with less resources,” Mr Hunter said.

He said young Indigenous leaders should have input and be able to receive appropriate resourcing and support in these new initiatives.

“I think it’s critical the youth have ability and are empowered to be able to do something,” Mr Hunter said.

Dr Westerman is also concerned with the way these new prevention initiatives will be led by young Indigenous leaders, stressing Indigenous communities need guidance. She believes it is crucial these types of programs are responsive to community needs.

“Suicide is complex. There needs to be some build-in there to guarantee these communities have support and expertise,” Dr Westerman said.

Dr Westerman said programs often labelled as ‘community-led’ are poorly equipped to deal with the complexity of suicide, which overall hinders those they are trying to help.

The clinical psychologist is pushing for support of Indigenous best practice in Indigenous mental health at the federal level.

“The government needs to step back and understand there needs to be some leadership on an issue as complex as suicide,” Dr Westerman said.

“We’re not applying best practice to our mob.”

Director of CBPATSISP Professor Pat Dudgeon said she hopes the new Indigenous leadership group will lead to a more efficient and effective response to Indigenous suicide both regionally and nationally.

“But again, we need more information about how these bodies will operate, and the leaders must be Indigenous and enjoy wide community support,” Professor Dudgeon said.

Mr Hunter said culturally-centred solutions are a key aspect in addressing Indigenous suicide.

“It has to be solutions driven by people on the ground,” Mr Hunter said.

By Hannah Cross

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