Community-led solutions vital in addressing youth suicide

Morgan Liotta

8/02/2019 12:46:13 PM

Politicians have responded to a coronial inquest into suicides of 13 Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander youths in WA over a four-year period.

WA State Coroner Ros Fogliani said the recent cluster of suicides has been ‘shaped by the crushing effects of intergenerational trauma’. (Image: Trevor Collens)
WA State Coroner Ros Fogliani said the recent cluster of suicides has been ‘shaped by the crushing effects of intergenerational trauma’. (Image: Trevor Collens)

The coroner’s report into the investigation of the deaths of 13 children and young people – five of whom were aged between 10 and 13 years – in Western Australia’s Kimberley region between 2012–16 has prompted response and further plans for action from the Government.
WA State Coroner Ros Fogliani, who travelled across the Kimberley during the inquest, described the situation as dire and said the ‘profoundly tragic, individually and collectively’ deaths had been ‘shaped by the crushing effects of intergenerational trauma’.
‘It may be time to consider whether the [government-run suicide prevention] services themselves need to be co-designed in a completely different way that recognises, at a foundational level, the need for a more collective and inclusive approach towards cultural healing for Aboriginal communities,’ she said.
Key recommendations from the inquest to prevent youth suicide (out of the 42 made by Ms Fogliani) include:

  • screening for fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) during infant health assessments and when a child first enters protection or justice systems
  • restricting access to alcohol across affected communities
  • extending an offer of a voluntary cashless debit card to the entire Kimberley region
  • building culturally-appropriate spaces at schools, healthcare spaces and other public services
  • building a mental health facility in the Kimberley region that incorporates treatment for alcohol and drug abuse problems
  • suicide intervention and prevention training for child protection workers and teachers who have regular contact with Aboriginal children
  • introducing or continuing to expand Aboriginal language classes and engagement in schools to improve attendance rates.
Even with these recommendations put forward there is still much to be done, according to Patrick Dodson, WA Senator and Chair of Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition Relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.
‘The issues are complex – it is not something that we can simply resolve by one program or one set of funding. It is something we need to tackle across the community with the help of the government,’ he said.
‘A shift in the way major support services approach remote communities is needed to address the specific needs. What we really need is to work with the community to understand what are the needs and design the services to respond to the needs.’

Ken Wyatt believes ‘there is hope for a better way of doing things and to stop this sadness’. (Image: Mick Tsikas)

Federal Minister for Indigenous Health Ken Wyatt stressed the need for immediate action on the report’s recommendations.
‘This report must not join the other reports into Aboriginal wellbeing delivered over the last 15 years that simply sit and gather dust – this report must lead a paradigm shift that leads to community-led solutions that address the clear sense of suffering, hopelessness and disillusionment that is being felt,’ he said.
‘We must continue to work towards building strong community, strong country. There is hope for a better way of doing things and to stop this sadness.
‘It requires a resolve to work with First Nations peoples to establish new ways.’
The findings of the report highlight recognition of the complex issues that contribute to suicide, including intergenerational trauma and the need to address these issues through engaging with communities and an overhaul of service delivery in the region.
Suicide prevention coordinator for WA Country Health Service Sue Luketina has previously said the situation of suicide among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people in the Kimberley region restates the ‘much-needed increase in state and federal investment, including the appointment of the region’s first permanent child and adolescent psychiatrist’.
The RACGP and National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO)’s National guide to a preventive health assessment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people includes sections relevant to suicide intervention and prevention for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth:
  • Child health – FASD, prevention of child maltreatment, and supporting families to optimise child safety and wellbeing
  • The health of young people – social and emotional wellbeing and drug use
  • Mental health – prevention of depression and suicide
  • Lifestyle – including alcohol
  • Family abuse and violence

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health intergenerational trauma mental health suicide Western Australia

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