Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations provide comprehensive community-led solutions to deal with Suicide Prevention

Ethan FrenchFeature, News

As part of the Kimberley Aboriginal Suicide Prevention Trial, a group of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and social workers, united to discuss youth mental health strategies at the ‘Empowered Young Leaders Forum 2019’ in Broome WA.

Suicide is the fifth leading cause of death for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with suicide rates twice as high as that for other Australians (source: ABS data).

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day and the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) would like to highlight innovative work done by its members to address disproportionate suicide rates amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

NACCHO Chair, Donnella Mills says, “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.

“Over-incarceration, lack of access to affordable housing, exposure to violence and lack of access to mental health services, are common factors that lead to suicides. We must take action to address all social determinants and have a comprehensive policy that tackles the underlying causes to the issue.

“It is essential to have Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander control at the centre of programs and interventions and to draw on elements of our culture that give us strength and identity.” 

“The new National Agreement on Close the Gap targets bring focus on areas not previously included in the Closing the Gap strategy such as suicide, children in out-of-home care, adult incarceration and juvenile detention, which will help immensely in this direction.”

For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, social determinants affecting mental health can include factors such as cultural identity, family, intergenerational trauma, participation in cultural activities and access to traditional lands. To address these factors, NACCHO believes adequate funding support for Aboriginal led, mental health and suicide prevention programs is vital.

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

“We will continue to advocate for appropriate funding to ACCHOs to ensure community-led solutions are prioritised and to expand their mental health, social and emotional wellbeing, suicide prevention, and alcohol and other drug services, using best-practice trauma informed approaches,” Ms Mills said.

There are a couple of ACCHOs such as the Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Service (KAMS) in WA, Wuchopperen Health Service in Qld, Pika Wiya Health Service Aboriginal Corporation in SA, who have done significant work in this area and have specialised programs to curb suicide rates in their communities.

“KAMS’ focus has been to support the community in designing and delivering Kimberley-specific services and programs. Improved data availability is essential to enable this. Actions and investment must be placed-based to deliver results on the ground and focus on not just short-term outcomes, but long-term impacts. The success of these programs requires an ongoing commitment to sustainable funding and a whole of system approach,” said Rob McPhee, KAMS Chief Operating Officer.

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