In response to World Suicide Prevention Day, the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) is shining a light on Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs) across the nation working towards combatting suicide rates in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Currently, suicide is the fifth leading cause of death for Indigenous people in Australia, with rates twice as high as that for non-Indigenous Australians. ACCHOs are delivering place-based, community-led strategies and solutions to decrease suicide rates.

“For NACCHO and our communities, reducing suicide rates and improving the mental health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has always been a priority,” said NACCHO Chair, Donnella Mills.

“We know our Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations are best placed to deliver these essential services because they understand the issues our people go through.”

Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services (KAMS) in WA are working tirelessly to ensure suicide prevention is a top priority in their region.

“Every loss of life due to suicide is tragic because it is preventable. What we are trying to do in the Kimberley is trying to better understand the reasons why the rates are so much higher, they are twice that of other Aboriginal people in Australia and three times the rate of non-Aboriginal Australians,” said Rob McPhee, KAMS Chief Operating Officer.

“It is really about getting to the root cause of that overrepresentation and being able to work with communities to be able to address the issues associated with them.”

KAMS has been heavily involved with the Kimberley Aboriginal Suicide Prevention Trial which is currently in its fifth and final year.

As part of the trial, KAMS has developed a number of community capacity and resilience programs. One of these programs is the Natural Helpers Program, which was developed in response to a community need for Kimberley-specific suicide intervention training. KAMS’ Social and Emotional Well Being (SEWB) team partnered with Kimberley Aboriginal Suicide Prevention Trial staff to develop and deliver the program.

Currently, the program has seen 80 participants and a wealth of positive feedback.

“It’s about recognition that often it’s our family and our loved ones who are the first responders to the people in crisis,” said McPhee.

“It’s not a service provider, it’s the person recognising someone has been looking a bit down, feeling a bit down or acting out of character.

“It’s about giving those individuals the skills and knowledge to recognise those signs where possible but have the sorts of initial conversations to determine whether that person needs additional support.”

KAMS is dedicated to evolving to the needs of suicide prevention in their region; the team will attempt to consolidate all the work achieved by the Kimberley Aboriginal Suicide Prevention Trials by June 30 next year. They will also collaborate with the WA Health Commission to develop the Kimberley Aboriginal Suicide Prevention plan.

“We are also very keen to continue to ensure that the recommendations from the Colonial Inquest and the learnings from the Message Stick Report are publicly reported on and implemented. We will continue to put pressure on the WA Government to ensure that it doesn’t get lost in the system,” added McPhee.

“We have said it over and over again that the Colonial Inquest Report, for us, is a line in the sand and we will no longer accept these sorts of recommendations falling on deaf ears and no action being taken.”

World Suicide Prevention Day also sees Gayaa Dhuwi (Proud Spirit) Australia (GDPSA) announcing the renewal of the 2013 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Strategy (NATSISPS) and calling for input into the development of the new strategy.

“The NATSISPS was released in May 2013. It was developed by Indigenous experts and leaders in mental health and suicide prevention and remains a sound, evidence-based, strategic response to Indigenous suicide,” said GDPSA CEO Tom Brideson.

“However, it also responded to a set of circumstances that have changed since 2013 and that require it to be renewed.

“I encourage any person or organisation committed to Indigenous suicide prevention to participate in the NATSISPS renewal process.

“GDPSA’s vision is Indigenous leadership and excellence and the achievement of the highest attainable standard of social and emotional wellbeing, mental health and suicide prevention outcomes for Indigenous peoples in Australia.

“By making your voice heard in the NATSISPS renewal process, you can help us reach that goal.”

Whilst much work has been done, and much more is to be done, McPhee said World Suicide Prevention Day is a day to reflect, reach out and start conversations.

“I think it is important for all of us to recognise that mental ill health is everybody’s business and it’s so important that we follow the motto of R U OK? day and check in on each other—not just [on World Suicide Prevention Day] but every day,” said McPhee.

“That’s what life is about—human connection—and it’s so important we continue to strengthen those.”

By Rachael Knowles