NACCHO Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Health News: Community-led approach to suicide prevention

feature tile, NACCHO tile Culture Care Connect on blue aqua Aboriginal art; text 'Innovative, community-led approach to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide prevention'

The artwork in the feature tile was created by then NACCHO staff member Jodi Knight. It is a visual representation of the Culture Care Connect program, symbolising the three levels of program implementation, advocacy and knowledge sharing across the changing landscape of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide prevention, mental health and social and emotional wellbeing nationally. The colours evoke feelings of calm. The gatherings represent coordination, advocacy and governance structures at a national, affiliate and local level. At the local level, the artwork depicts the three different aspects of the Culture Care Connect program: community-controlled suicide prevention planning and coordination; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-led program delivery; and strong and supported program workforce.

The NACCHO Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health News is platform we use to showcase the important work being done in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, focusing on the work of NACCHO, NACCHO members and NACCHO affiliates.

We also share a curated selection of news stories that are of likely interest to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health sector, broadly.

Community-led approach to suicide prevention

The first of its kind, the NACCHO Culture Care Connect (CCC) program is an innovative, community-led approach to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide prevention.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience rates of suicide 2.4 times higher than other Australians. In 2021, suicide accounted for 5.3% of all deaths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, while the comparable proportion for non-Indigenous Australians was 1.8%, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, especially those living in remote and regional areas, there are significant barriers that reduce access and utilisation of mental health services, including experiencing culturally unsafe practices.

While reported statistics for suicide are particularly concerning, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have shown remarkable resilience in the face of the ongoing impacts of colonisation, racism, discrimination and intergenerational trauma. CCC seeks to empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people through self-determination and community-controlled development of suicide prevention networks and plans, co-designed aftercare services and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health first-aid training. It is committed to overcoming the inequality experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and reducing the prevalence of suicide and self-harm.

NACCHO has been funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care until June 2025 to rollout the program. This funding supports the:

  • establishment of 31 Community-Controlled Suicide Prevention Networks
  • establishment of Community-Controlled Aftercare Services
  • coordination and delivery of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health First Aid Training

To view the National Rural Health Alliance’s Partyline e-magazine article A community-led approach to suicide prevention in full click here.

group of Culture Care Connect onboarding participants on internal stairs of Nishi building

Culutre Care Connect Aftercare Onboarding, Canberra, June 2023. Image source: NACCHO.

Culturally safe stillbirth prevention and care

Prevention of stillbirth in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and responsive care when such losses occur, are key aims of the Stillbirth Centre of Research Excellence (CRE). Understanding Indigenous communities’ experiences, perceptions and priorities around stillbirth, or Sorry Business Babies, is needed to implement prevention strategies and culturally safe practices in Australian maternity health services.

A collaborative consultation process with Indigenous communities around Australia identified stillbirth prevention and care needs. Researchers were led by the community, who shared their lived experiences and stories of their own communities through yarning. Yarning sessions provided a comfortable, safe space for community members to share stories, ask questions and feel heard. Consultations were held in 18 communities – involving 93 community members and 221 healthcare providers, many of whom were also Indigenous community members – across remote, regional and urban areas in QLD, WA, VIC, SA and the NT. Consultations were face to face or online, using yarning interviews, discussion groups and workshops, with some participants having lived experience of Sorry Business Babies.

Findings included the need for better health service engagement and support of families and communities, as well as improved education and resources for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous healthcare providers. Lack of continuity of care was identified as the main barrier in effective prevention, investigation of causes and care for families following stillbirth. This highlights the importance of continuous care for families during the perinatal period, including when a baby does not survive.

To view the National Rural Health Alliance’s Partyline e-magazine article Culturally safe stillbirth prevention and care in full click here. You can also watch the Stronger Bubba Born video about stillbirth below.

Pilbara GP says more help is needed

Pilbara GP Sonia Henry has seen young people die of strokes, teenagers with heart disease, and children who have lost their hearing after untreated ear infections. “We need to do so much better in giving remote Australians back what they give to us,” Henry told the Regional Australia Institute’s national summit in Canberra on Thursday this week.

“Particularly in WA, the mining companies’ profits are huge, but the people who live there aren’t seeing that.” Henry, who has spent years working in remote WA and western NSW, said city-based specialists should serve up to four weeks in the bush every year, easing the burden on young rural doctors and medical students. “Once I saw the things I saw out there, I could never unsee them and I could never just go back to work in Sydney with my eyes closed,” the doctor and author said. “You see this great beauty and you see this enormous suffering and that has changed my life.”

The regional think tank’s annual national conference heard from leaders across politics, business, local government and technology exploring ways to help growing country areas prosper. The organisation this week released a progress report on its policy ambitions to support a regional population of 11 million by 2032. National Rural Health Alliance (NRHA) CEO Susi Tegen said there were promising moves in the sector, like greater collaboration between state and federal governments. But research by the NRHA found there was a $6.5b annual spending shortfall in rural health. “That means that population of seven million people is not receiving the health care they deserve,” Tegen said.

To view the SBS News article This GP has spent years working in remote Australia. She says more help is needed in full click here. You can also read a related article ‘If the plane breaks down, it’s just you’: the pressure and awakening of one city GP in the outback published in The Guardian on 3 June 2023 here.
Dr Sonia Henry at the Robe River Rodeo sign in desert Australia

Dr Sonia Henry at the Robe River Rodeo sign in desert Australia. Image source: The Guardian.

Impact of parasites a national shame

Many Australians likely read the coverage of the live roundworm found in the brain of a NSW woman with morbid curiosity. If you missed it, a wriggling, 8cm-long parasitic roundworm was removed from the head of a 64-year-old woman complaining of headaches, depression and forgetfulness. The patient likely picked up the parasite through eating foraged vegetables contaminated by python poo.

You may find it gross, but for researchers of parasites and infectious diseases – who recently met in Darwin for the Annual Meeting for Australian Society for Parasitology – stories like this are fascinating but not particularly gross. What we do find gross is the persistence of awful infectious diseases in situations where they are eminently preventable, and in countries that are rich enough to have eliminated them.

Particularly gross is the prevalence of infectious diseases in First Nations communities despite those same infections being unknown or eradicated among non-Indigenous Australians. In fact, as we heard at the conference, for some Indigenous and remote communities in Australia the problem of worms and other parasites is not only not improving – it’s potentially worsening. Indigenous Australians bear a disproportionate health burden for a swathe of infectious diseases that are otherwise only a problem in the world’s poorest countries. It is an enduring discredit to our country that roundworm infections of humans are newsworthy and enthralling when reported in a Canberra hospital, but are widely ignored when they proliferate in Indigenous communities.

To view the University of Melbourne Pursuit article Parasites may be gross, but so is Australia’s attitude to Indigenous health in full click here.

human threadworm – Strongyloides stercoralis under microscope

The human threadworm – Strongyloides stercoralis – is serious and potentially deadly. Photo: Shutterstock. Image source: University of Melbourne Pursuit.

Summit to address rural medical workforce dilemma

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) will bring together leading doctors and experts in rural medicine to unearth much needed solutions to some of the most pressing issues affecting Australia’s regional medical workforce. In response to crippling rural workforce shortages and a lack of specialist training opportunities throughout regional Australia, the AMA is holding a Rural Medical Training Summit in Canberra today.

The event coincides with the launch of the AMA’s Plan for improving access to rural general practice, which proposes a range of measures to improve access to primary healthcare for rural communities. Proposed measures outlined in the plan include the establishment of a National Rural Health and Workforce Strategy — with funding for an independent workforce planning agency — and expanded training pathways for doctors in rural areas.

The Rural Medical Training Summit will help the AMA and other key health stakeholders develop priorities for advocacy and reform in rural specialist training. AMA President Professor Stephen Robson said the expertise of participants, including one of the world’s foremost authorities in rural medical education — Professor Roger Strasser AM — would be a key part of collaborative efforts in rural medical training reform. “Medical workforce shortages are among the biggest threats to rural health in Australia,” Professor Robson said.

You can read the AMA’s media release AMA summit to address Australia’s rural medical workforce dilemma in full here and the AMA Plan for Improving Access to Rural General Practice 2023 here.

cover of AMA plan for improving access to rural general practice 2023

Strong Born campaign support mob

The Strong Born campaign has been developed by NACCHO and is supported by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE). Led by NACCHO, along with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) clinical and cultural experts across Australia, the Strong Born campaign raises awareness of the risks of drinking alcohol during pregnancy, as well as the importance of safe breastfeeding practices.

Raising awareness about FASD has long been a priority for the ACCHO sector. The Strong Born campaign includes resources designed in collaboration with representatives from various Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, to make yarning about this complex topic easier. The resources have been designed for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and health professionals working in an ACCHO setting. Resources are available via the NACCHO website for anyone seeking to support individuals and families, in a culturally safe way, through issues related to FASD.

NACCHO CEO Pat Turner said, “The Strong Born campaign is about raising awareness and understanding of FASD and reducing stigma and shame. The campaign includes culturally appropriate health information for women and families, educational materials for our Aboriginal healthcare workers and guidance for healthcare providers that work with Aboriginal communities. In collaboration with our member organisations, we’ll also support opportunities to bring our communities together to create safe places for yarning about the impacts of alcohol on pregnancy. Growing strong healthy mums and bubs leads to healthy communities. Our communities need to understand the risks of drinking alcohol during pregnancy, and where to go for support, so they can ask for help if they need it.”

To find out more about the Strong Born campaign and to access the campaign resources, visit the NACCHO website here and view the National Rural Health Alliance’s Partyline e-magazine article Strong Born campaign supports First Nations communities in full click here.


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