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An expert in the field of Indigenous suicide prevention is optimistic about progress being made to tackle the high rates of suicide in young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Western Australia.

Last month a report by the WA Ombudsman Chris Field was tabled in WA Parliament evaluating the progress towards recommendations made in his previous report on the topic from last year.

The Ombudsman’s investigation, Preventing suicide by children and young people 2020, made mention of the disproportionately high rate of suicide within the Indigenous population and included seven recommendations.

Two of the recommendations were specific to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Bardi woman and Director of the UWA Centre of Best Practice in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention, Pat Dudgeon welcomed the follow-up report.

“What I liked about it was that they’ve followed through, that there is some kind of continuation rather than do a report and then let it gather dust and forget the issues,” she said.

“This is an impetus for those recommendations to become a reality.”

In his follow up report the Ombudsman stated he was of the view that steps had been proposed to give effect to all seven of those recommendations and action had been taken on six of them.

The follow-up report stated the Ombudsman understands steps had been taken and further actions are proposed in order for the Mental Health Commission to develop specific suicide prevention plans for Aboriginal children and young people as outlined in recommendation 2 of his initial report.

The Commission noted the additional $9.8 million in additional funding to the Western Australian Suicide Prevention Framework for regional Aboriginal Suicide Prevention Plans across the state in its submission to the Ombudsman.

It also told the Ombudsman successful organisations were appointed to implement regional plans in June 2021 and each plan prioritised Aboriginal-led and locally endorsed initiatives and that they included initiatives targeting young people.

While the report noted the development of and progress towards implementing regional Aboriginal Suicide Prevention Plans, it also revealed the Mental Health Commission and the Departments of Health, Communities and Education had not yet come together to discuss issues around accurate cultural identification.

The Ombudsman had recommended the Mental Health Commission, and the aforementioned departments work with one another and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to identify culturally safe ways to ask about cultural identity in situations where there are concerns about a young person’s self-harming or suicidal behaviour.

In its response to the Ombudsman published in the follow-up report, the Mental Health Commission said it had requested a meeting with key representatives from the relevant departments “to discuss a strategic approach to progress Recommendation 3″.

The need to accurately report Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander status was raised in the initial report due to research that shows an underreporting of such people who died by suicide.

This recommendation recognises the first step in providing culturally appropriate services is asking questions of cultural identity and understanding the community’s language, traditions and customs.

“Accordingly, it is important for State government departments and authorities to work collaboratively in sharing and recording the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status of children and young people,” the report noted.

Some steps have been taken to work towards the recommendation as the Ombudsman acknowledged in the report, saying he was “of the view that steps are proposed to be taken to give effect to Recommendation 3”.

Yamatji/Noongar woman and WA Greens Senator Dorinda Cox said more needs to be done to address the high rates of Aboriginal youth suicide.

She said localised plans need a “significant and immediate injection of funding” from both the State and Federal Governments.

“This must be addressed in the upcoming National Partnership Agreement on mental health between the Federal and WA State Governments.”

Read the Ombudsman’s full report here.

By Aleisha Orr


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