Colonial trauma created disconnect
Progress made so far in the Kimberley’s Aboriginal Suicide Prevention Trial was shared at the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Conference last month which drew together leaders from across the country to discuss tackling high suicide rates in Aboriginal communities.
In 2017 alone, 165 Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander peoples died by suicide, with a standardised death rate of 25.5 per 100,000, which was considerably higher than the non-indigenous suicide rate of 12.7 per 100,000 people.
Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services deputy chief executive Rob McPhee said a key issue identified not only in the Kimberley trial site, but in programs shared throughout the conference, was deep-rooted in a traumatic past of colonialism.
“Even though it happened a long time ago, it created disconnect with country that’s had far-reaching affects,” he said. “These are the undercurrent issues that need to be addressed.”
Mr McPhee said the Kimberley suicide prevention trial site was one of two Aboriginal-specific projects among 12 Federally funded sites launched in August, 2016, which aimed to tackle stigma and curb incidents of suicide.
“One of the important lessons for us was the need for people in the community to do recovery and healing,” he said.
“It’s a lot to ask to switch from trauma to forward thinking; we learnt we really needed to allow for that healing process first.”
While the first leg of the trial was heavily focussed on hearing out community frustration, awareness-raising campaigns are already being rolled out aimed at encouraging people to seek help early.
“A lot of it is generic enough so anyone who sees it will stop and think ‘that sounds like me’, but it also targets young people and men especially,” Mr McPhee said.
Of the 102 Aboriginal suicides in the Kimberley recorded between 2005 to 2014, about 70 per cent were male, 68 per cent of whom were under 30 years and 27 per cent of whom were under 20.
“We need to work with young people, get into schools and use young people to share their stories,” Mr Mcphee said.