The Murchison-Gascoyne region has overtaken the Kimberley region’s suicide rates, with new statistics finding Yamatji people in the area are taking their lives at seven times the national rate at the least.

As of 2018, the ABS reported Australia’s suicide rate to be 12.2 per 100,000 people. For First Nations Peoples, this was 24 per 100,000 – nearly double.

Data breakdowns by Gerry Georgatos, National Coordinator of the National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery Project (NSPTRP) has shown people of the Yamatji Nation now has the highest rate nationwide.

“The nation’s most affected are now the Murchison-Gascoyne’s Yamatji peoples. Last year they recorded the nation’s highest suicide rate; nearly 90 suicides per 100,000 population (Yamatji),” Georgatos said.

“Thereafter, north and far north Queensland First Nations peoples presently comprise the highest suicide rates, at 60 per 100,000 population (First Nations).

“The devastating grim reality [is] that Townsville alone last year comprised nearly 10 percent of the nation’s First Nations suicides.”

Now the NSPTRP and the Geraldton Regional Aboriginal Medical Services (GRAMS) are calling for swift intervention from the State and Federal Governments to begin to stem this crisis facing First Nations communities.

GRAMS CEO, Deborah Woods, said she’s “devastatingly disappointed” that less than one percent of State health funding for the Murchison-Gascoyne region isn’t dedicated to the Yamatji First Nations Peoples.

“The Murchison-Gascoyne has a higher mortality rate than the State average, and the mortality rate disproportionately impacts, devastates, the region’s Yamatji people,” Woods said.

“We are calling on both the State and the Commonwealth to support the peak health service of the Yamatji people to each provide funding for two full-time psychologists and at least six full-time Aboriginal mental health practitioners.”

“We are struggling with one part-time psychologist only for the whole of the Murchison-Gascoyne.”

“It breaks my heart that Yamatji people this year are recording the nation’s highest suicide rate, one of the highest in the world, but we must resolve, with the support of the State Government, that this high rate of suicide does not continue as it did for so long for instance with the Kimberley peoples.”

GRAMS Chair, Sandy Davies, shared his anger at the lack of funding for the region’s peak body for First Nations health.

“It is reprehensible that the GRAMS, the peak and only body for our people, has not been dedicated with funding, despite the known fact, much publicised, that the suicide toll for the region, for our people, is record-high.”

While official results are yet to come from the Australian Bureau of Statistics for 2019, Georgatos said they will without a doubt show Yamatji people have a rate near twice the rate of Kimberley First Nations deaths by suicide.

This is despite First Nations Peoples being only 12 percent of the Murchison-Gascoyne region, whereas the Kimberley’s First Nations population sits at 42 percent.

“Gut-wrenchingly, more than one third of Western Australia’s First Nations suicides last year and the harrowed trend continuing, were of Yamatji individuals, with the youngest aged 12,” he said.

“To reduce the suicide toll for Western Australia, for Australia, outreach must be the forefront of investments, and more needs to be spent than ever before to save lives.”

Woods said while the McGowan Government has approved millions to redevelop health services across the Midwest, GRAMS is still waiting.

In the meantime, the medical service has teamed up with NSPTRP to provide much-needed outreach to vulnerable families.

“We recently partnered up with the GRAMS for a week and outreached to 30 vulnerable families in Geraldton,” said NSPTRP Director, Megan Krakouer.

“We worked with suicidality and have at this time three Yamatji young men in Perth, in positive mindsets, [on] a training to employment program [pathway] and they will score by the end of this week Certificate IIIs in Construction, all their tickets, and are guaranteed fulltime employment thereafter.

“That’s what planned outreach achieves, it’s what quality mental health practitioners can achieve. We need to turnover more case engagements.”

Georgatos said proportional funding is key in addressing the high suicide rates in the Murchison-Gascoyne region.

“The avoidable mortality rate for Yamatji people is five times higher than for the rest of the Midwest’s population.

“GRAMS should be proportionally funded five times the rest of the demography and then that’d be health equality. The principle of proportionality is vital.

“We don’t want to shift focus [from the Kimberley], we want attention paid to all high-risk regions – we want all lives saved.”

NIT understands GRAMS has sent a submission to Deputy Premier Roger Cook, who is also Minister for Health and Mental Health.

The submission is calling for more funding to allow for more psychosocial outreach workers and psychologists for the Murchison-Gascoyne region.

Minister Cook said he understood GRAMS had met with the Mental Health Commission in relation to the matter.

“Providing mental health services in the community, close to where people live is a priority of the McGowan Government,” Minister Cook said.

“That is why we are also fast tracking the delivery of a Geraldton community mental health step up/step down service with $2.4 million allocated in the 2019/20 Mid-Year Review. This will be a 10-bed short-term, residential mental health service and is expected to open early 2021.”

Minister Cook’s office also told NIT $4.8 million will be provided to non-government organisations for mental health, alcohol and drug treatment services in the Midwest on top of the $10.8 million allocated to the WA Country Health Service.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with mental ill-health, call or visit the online resources below:

 

By Hannah Cross