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AUSTRALIAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION (WA)
When I addressed the National Press Club in July this year, I spoke about wanting to improve mental health outcomes for young people and the implementation of a targeted plan towards zero youth suicide in remote communities.
We are all shocked and grieved by the numbers of Indigenous Australians, especially youth, committing suicide.
During my address, I said:
“The fact that Aboriginal people are committing suicide at twice the rate of non-Indigenous Australians is one of the gravest and most heart-breaking challenges we face.”
Our mission must be to ensure that all lives are full of promise, and not filled with despair and disconnection.
We must improve the mental health and wellbeing for our young people. We need to get the services right – and to the right people through our reach and frontline services.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s goal of reducing suicide to zero will be supported through our $503 million Youth Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan – of which $34 million is allocated for Indigenous youth suicide prevention.
Indigenous Australian families and communities are suffering under the tragic burden of more than double the national rate – that’s why I take very seriously the task of combatting our nation’s suicide epidemic.
Suicide has flow-on effects in families and communities, and the close, interconnected nature of many Indigenous communities can make the impact even greater.
Indigenous Australians vulnerable to suicide often experience additional risk factors and we need to understand them to be able to address them. We also know that suicide rates for Indigenous Australians are higher outside of capital cities and engaging with local communities to develop tailored, community-led suicide prevention strategies is critical, backed by timely accurate data.
It is critically important that this process is led by communities, that we listen to what is needed on the ground, and that we invest in programs that work.
I am chairing the Community Advisory Groups in both the Kimberley and Darwin. This will help guide the implementation of our government’s funding to address Indigenous suicide prevention and mental health support for children and their families.
In the Kimberley and Darwin regions, we will develop a coordinated and culturally appropriate suicide prevention model for Indigenous communities.
Young people in the Kimberley have made it clear to me that suicides don’t happen between nine and five but often when the services are not accessible.
There is significant investment in services and programs already throughout Australia. I intend to challenge the status quo of investments in suicide prevention and mental health support to ensure we are supporting best practice, culturally safe and evidence-based initiatives.
We know families and community circumstances can change and so investment must be flexible to change when local circumstances demand it.
In the Kimberley, there are three new projects. Each has life-promoting messages and a focus on culture, positive identity and wellbeing. Community-driven action plans are supporting arts, sports and camps activities that respond to the needs of children, youth, families and community members in Broome, Derby and Bidyadanga.
Additional support for suicide prevention and postvention education to GPs and other health services and providers is being rolled out, so they are better equipped to respond when people need help.
We must ensure that our programs are there to help at-risk groups and address evidence-based risk factors including relationship conflict, alcohol and drug use, and other challenges to wellbeing.
The Morrison Government’s historic commitment and investment must ensure young Indigenous Australians and their families can access culturally safe services when and where they need it.
Together, government and community can affect change – and drive our goal of zero suicide across Australia.