NACCHO Aboriginal Health #suicideprevention News : Health Minister Sussan Ley Communique – Kimberley Roundtable; #suicideprevention


 “A high-level Roundtable discussion on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide in the Western Australian Kimberley region, chaired by Federal Minister for Health, Sussan Ley, emphasised the need for local, Indigenous controlled responses to the escalating rates of suicide in the community.”

The Hon Sussan Ley Health Minister

The Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull had committed the Government to this Roundtable discussion with key stakeholders in the Kimberley to understand what is working in the region and what is not and to find some agreement on ways to help shape a new landmark suicide prevention trial in the Kimberley.

The Kimberley region has been selected as an initial site for a suicide prevention trial in recognition of the high rate of suicide in the region, particularly in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. In the Kimberley, the age-adjusted rate of suicide is more than six times the national average.

Minister Ley was joined by Indigenous Affairs Minister, Nigel Scullion, and Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care, Ken Wyatt, who is an Aboriginal man from Western Australia.

Delegates to the Roundtable were given an advanced copy of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project (ATSISPEP) report, which was discussed by the project director, Professor Pat Dudgeon.

The report evaluated the effectiveness of existing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide prevention services and programs and makes a number of recommendations that emphasise the need for community and culturally sensitive involvement in any suicide prevention activities.

It was agreed that the recommendations of the Report form a blueprint for the suicide prevention trial and that the ATSISPEP Evaluation tool be used and implemented to guide the PHN and Kimberley Suicide Prevention Trial site.

Key outcomes from the Roundtable today included:

  • Agreement for a shared commitment between the Australian Government, the community and service providers to reduce the high rates of suicide in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in the Kimberley region.
  • A recognition that suicide is not just a health issue but must link to the social and cultural determents of health.
  • a need to focus on family support
  • that community based interventions are developed and implemented using a foundation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership and in partnership with Indigenous communities, including the need to train the local Aboriginal mental health workforce and taking a family focussed approach as part of empowering the community.
  • that the Kimberley trial will develop a suicide prevention model that can support the unique and culturally sensitive requirements of remote communities.
  • that government funding and investment needs to be better targeted with more local involvement and streamlining between State and Federal funding arrangements.
  • and that the Country Western Australian Primary Health Network (PHN) will work closely and collaboratively in partnership with Kimberley Aboriginal groups and organisations in the conduct of the trial. Minister Ley undertook to investigate how to extend Aboriginal community controlled health organisations representation on PHNs.

Outcomes from the Roundtable will help plan and inform the design of the trial, local suicide prevention activity, and inform the design of strategies in the national trial.


It was agreed that the next step is to establish a Working Group consisting of representatives from local organisations as well as Commonwealth and State Departments with the assistance of the Federal Department of Health to develop the next action items for the trial.

Minister Scullion also committed to returning to the Kimberley region in December.

Minister Scullion also committed to funding a youth forum coordinated by Nyamba Buru Yawuru.

Ministers undertook to hold further consultations on these matters with the local Aboriginal community and other stakeholders in the Kimberley region.

See attached Communique from today’s suicide prevention roundtable.


NACCHO #suicideprevention Alert : Indigenous-led suicide prevention plan needed to fight Aboriginal death crisis: report


The ATSISPEP report, recently handed to the Prime Minister, recommends that all Indigenous suicide prevention programs be evaluated for effectiveness amid evidence the majority of existing programs are failing.

It recommends that Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services are positioned as the primary providers of mentalhealth care to Indigenous people, using funding channelled through mainstream Primary Health Networks.

Aboriginal suicides are at record levels in remote Australia and mainstream prevention programs are failing, a major report has concluded.

Watch Video here

The ABC has obtained a copy of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project (ATSISPEP), co-chaired by West Australian professor Pat Dudgeon and former social justice commissioner Tom Calma.

If you or anyone you know needs help:

The report calls for a radical rethink in Indigenous mental health policy to place Aboriginal people at the centre of care.

It calls for the immediate development of an Indigenous-led national prevention plan to stem a rising tide of Aboriginal deaths.

The project forms the foundation of the Federal Government’s policy response to the Indigenous suicide crisis, which has claimed 680 Aboriginal lives between 2011 and 2015.

The report also calls for teams of support workers that fly to a community in the wake of a suicide to be expanded nationwide.

The Critical Response Project is currently being trialled in suicide hotspots in Western Australia.

There is a national focus on Indigenous suicide this week as Health Minister Sussan Ley prepares to chair a special roundtable on suicide prevention in the Kimberley.

Key recommendations:

  • The Federal Government should develop and a national strategy in Indigenous suicide prevention that draws on the ATSISPEP findings
  • Establish an evaluation tool for assessing Indigenous suicide prevention programs and ensure they operate in line with the ATSISPEP findings
  • Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services to be primary providers of mental health care services
  • Redirect funding away from the criminal justice system towards Indigenous mental health and alcohol and drug services

WA was rocked by another tragedy this week with the death of a 37-year-old mother of three, who took her life in Kalgoorlie, the Goldfields town that recently exploded into racial unrest following the death of 14-year-old Elijah Doughty.

Elijah died after being allegedly run down by a motorist outside the town.

During the past two-and-a-half years, ATSISPEP members have toured the country talking to Indigenous people about suicide and resilience.

They have been told of mass frustration at the coalface. Many well-funded programs are culturally inappropriate, and many Aboriginal-led programs struggle to gain access to funding.

The ATSISPEP report profiled 19 Indigenous-led initiatives that have been working to combat Indigenous suicide.

Indigenous suicides escalated over past decade: ABS

The Federal Government late last year announced a renewed approach to national suicide prevention through the establishment of a National Suicide Prevention Strategy.

In August it announced that the Kimberley — which has one of the highest Indigenous suicide rates in the world — was designated as one of 12 suicide prevention trial sites.

But there is concern among Indigenous leaders that policy development is proceeding even before the ATSISPEP report has been released.

ATSISPEP co-chair Professor Dudgeon said she thought the report would “show the way forward”.

“There aren’t many Aboriginal families who aren’t touched by suicide. And I think with suicide, it’s a more poignant grief because the person has chosen not to be here,” she said.

“It’s ongoing trauma with little opportunity to recover.

“I believe that this report will show a way forward. Even though there is a crisis, people are not sitting on their hands. They want help and they want things to happen.”

Suicide researchers have been warning for several years that the rising rates of Indigenous suicide nationwide amounts to an epidemic.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics recently released figures that showed Indigenous suicide rates have been escalating steadily for the past decade.

The West Australian Government recently claimed deaths by suicide in the state were decreasing, but that has been disputed by Aboriginal leaders in the policy area.

Aboriginal kids account for one in three child suicides

More than 152 Aboriginal people died by suicide in 2015, including 110 men and 42 women.

Indigenous suicide was almost unheard of prior to the 1960s. But in 2015, suicide was the fifth-leading cause of death for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People across NSW, Queensland, SA, WA and NT, compared to the 12th-leading cause of death for non-Indigenous people.

However, for Aboriginal children, the statistics are even more grim. They make up one in three child suicides.

WA academic Gerry Georgatos argued the official figures significantly under-represented true Indigenous suicide rates, especially in remote areas.

Mr Georgatos believes suicide accounts for one in 10 Indigenous deaths, much higher than the official nationwide figure of one in 19.

“The suicide Aboriginal suicide crisis is a humanitarian crisis,” Mr Georgatos said.

“It’s a catastrophic humanitarian crisis — a staggering, harrowing narrative and it’s only getting worse.”

Mr Georgatos has spent years accurately documenting suicide rates using both official figures and grassroots reports from around the country and has played a frontline role in supporting families affected by suicide.

“The grim reality that I see on the ground, our nation should weep,” he said.

“The disconnect is not with culture. The disconnect is actually with hope.

“The ways forward are actually predominantly socioeconomic. We need to actually assist people to improve their lot. There must be opportunity

Survey for Lifeline added by NACCHO

Lifeline Australia is currently developing a clear understanding of services to help reduce Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide delivered by Lifeline and other organisations across Australia.

The survey will look at better ways it can support and work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders organisations across the country.  This survey will take approximately ten minutes too complete. The information gathered will be used to help identify ways to improve services to better support our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and reduce the rate of suicide in these communities. Thank you for taking the time to provide this important feedback.

The information gathered will be used to help identify ways to improve services. Thank you for taking the time to fill it out.


NACCHO Aboriginal Health #SuicidePrevention : Kimberley doctor speaks about his battle against Indigenous suicide


 ” Recently, the federal government picked the Kimberley as one of its 12 suicide-prevention trial sites, a product of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s $192 million election pledge.

The health department’s media release talks mainly in the abstract about developing models of suicide prevention to “tailor specifically to the unique and often culturally sensitive requirements of remote and Indigenous communities”.

This will use, it adds, the “expertise and local knowledge to tailor mental health solutions specific to their community needs”.

Yes, this would be welcome. But to many, its sentiments and its promises are depressingly familiar.

They are impulsive acts while intoxicated. It can be after a small argument, a trivial argument with a relative, friend or partner, and they just go off and find some hose.”

There are no nice, comforting words to describe what confronts Associate Professor Murray Chapman.

See previous NACCHO Aboriginal Health post  : Duplication or what ? 40 Mental Health Services for one community , 95 in an other

and 85 NACCHO articles on Suicide Prevention

A psychiatrist, trained in the UK, he is currently clinical director of the Kimberley Mental Health and Drug Service (KMHDS), which puts him at the centre of a community whose heart and soul is being torn apart by suicide.

“When you look at Indigenous suicide, it’s a completely different pattern to non-Indigenous suicide. There are many cries for help [from the young] where you live. If someone isn’t going to get a pair of shoes, they will tell you they are going to be angry, they’ll tell you they are not going home, or something like that. Here, in the Kimberley, the response is the threat of suicide. It has become the lingua franca of despair.”

In July, Professor Chapman and colleagues published a report in the Medical Journal of Australia. It was based on an audit of the KMHDS internal suicide and self-harm database, based on referrals to the service, police reports, and reports from local hospitals and various non-government agencies.

It found that, in the 10 years from 2005-2014, there were 125 suicides in the Kimberley. Of these, 102 were by indigenous people, who were mostly male (71%), mostly young (68% under age 30) and were mostly by people who had never come into contact with the services run by Chapman. Virtually all were by hanging. This was in an estimated population of around 14,000, which equates to an age-adjusted suicide rate of 74 per 100,000 population, or seven times the national rate.

The media has long been stirred up by the topic. Earlier in the year, there were reports of a suspected suicide of a 10-year-old indigenous girl in WA. In response to the coverage, the WA State Coroner’s office announced it would hold an inquest, not just into what happened to the girl, but into another 20 recent suspected suicides.

But it is easy to find similar stories about child suicide in the news cuttings from the year before, and the year before that — similar stories stretching back over the past 15-20 years.

[Keane: are we succeeding in curbing suicide?]

The causes of the tragedy, which has unfolded across the Kimberley and much of remote northern Australia, are hugely complex, Chapman says. He talks about collective trauma, the effects of colonisation, the effects of decolonisation and the Stolen Generation.

He talks about the damage done by alcohol and communities now dealing with the fallout of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, again at sky-high rates among those worse effected.

And then there is the basic poverty, the lives lived in the squats and slums.

“You are a young person and you have access to TV, you get Foxtel, and these kids can see the Kardashians and their ridiculous lifestyle and they look at what they have got. The mismatch of what is available and what to aspire to is substantial.”

As many indigenous leaders have pointed out over the years, Chapman says, suicide came late to indigenous Australia.

“From what we can gather in the Kimberley, until the ’60s or ’70s, and even the early ’80s, there was little in the way of suicide. But then it took off. It was at the time of the first royal commission into deaths in custody, and obviously it was partly about suicides happening in prison.

“When you look at the massive publicity in those days — there was a front cover of Time magazine with a picture of a noose — there was a recognised media effect [the Werther effect of copycat suicides] that helped push it into the community. It was probably already going that way, but [the publicity] really boosted it.”

Last month, the federal government picked the Kimberley as one of its 12 suicide-prevention trial sites, a product of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s $192 million election pledge.

The health department’s media release talks mainly in the abstract about developing models of suicide prevention to “tailor specifically to the unique and often culturally sensitive requirements of remote and Indigenous communities”.

This will use, it adds, the “expertise and local knowledge to tailor mental health solutions specific to their community needs”.

Yes, this would be welcome. But to many, its sentiments and its promises are depressingly familiar.

Back in 2007, for instance, WA State Coroner Alastair Hope began his inquest into the deaths of 22 indigenous people from suspected suicide. The idea was the same as now: to discover the broader reasons behind the individual tragedies.

Even with the distance of time, the findings make tough reading. Page after page recounting the final days or hours or moments of desperate people’s lives, short histories written in dry brutal bureaucratic words.

“During the preceding months the deceased had made several threats to harm himself … family and friends had, on occasions, physically removed objects from the deceased which could have been used as ligatures … at some point during the morning the deceased had a disagreement with his brother over a toy … a short time later he could not been seen … a search located him in front of a neighbouring house lying on the ground.”

[Trauma in the Kimberley: what life is like in remote indigenous communities]

The coroner’s report, which was published a year later, ran to more than 200 pages.

“In simple terms, it appears that Aboriginal welfare, particularly in the Kimberley, constitutes a disaster but no one is in charge of the disaster response,” Hope concluded.

He came up with 23 recommendations. He wrote about things as basic as changing the design in public housing so it was less about nuclear families and more about communal living.

He also wanted an end to a controversial work program for the indigenous unemployed, which he claimed, rather than offering meaningful work, seemed to result in what was called “sit down money” — money for doing nothing, which ended up fuelling alcohol misuse and the consequent havoc. But he also emphasised, first and foremost, the need to connect with Indigenous leadership.

Wes Morris, head of the Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Culture Centre, which originally called for the inquest, says, in the end, only three recommendations were taken up by governments — and they were simply the sort of recommendations governments are good at delivering, namely, the creation of more services.

‘Malignant grief’

The softer, less tangible demands, he says, were largely ignored.

“Did any of it work? No. If it had worked, we wouldn’t be going through another inquest 10 years later or needing a suicide prevention trial,” Morris said.

“They assiduously avoided the much harder recommendations, such as the recommendations about Indigenous leadership. The coroner found that there was no one steering the ship, no one driving the train. And that remains largely true today.”

Morris talks about funeral fatigue in the Kimberley, the days spent in mourning the dead, the cultural exhaustion and what was described by Dr Helen Milroy, Australia’s first indigenous doctor, as ‘malignant grief’ — the irresolvable, collective, cumulative grief that spreads through the body of indigenous culture, through the body of indigenous people with the form of human despair, which kills.

He quotes from the paper Cultural Wounds by Emeritus Professor Michael Chandler, a former professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia in Canada.

“If suicide prevention is our serious goal, then the evidence in hand recommends investing new moneys, not in the hiring of still more counsellors, but in organized efforts to preserve Indigenous languages, to promote the resurgence of ritual and cultural practices, and to facilitate communities in recouping some measure of community control over their own lives.”

A myth

Human rights campaigner Gerry Georgatos, who has been writing on indigenous suicide for more than a decade, is one of the many voices repeating their calls for a royal commission into a social horror story.

In March, as news of the suspected suicide of the 10-year-old girl broke, he wrote:

“I have travelled to hundreds of homeland communities and the people who are losing their loved ones are crying out to be heard, they are screaming.

“It is a myth and predominately a wider community perception that there is a silence, shame, taboo — it’s the listening that is not happening.”

As for Chapman, he remains clear about the limits of what can be done by statutory services while the bigger societal forces that have ravaged indigenous communities remain.

“We work together, but up here all our partners — the primary care teams, the police teams — are under resourced. It’s the inverse care law.

“I’m working on the edge of nowhere. I have the least resources and the most need. But we work together. Yes, we have a standard response [when someone dies] to stop clustering, to support families to minimise the risk of further suicide. We advocate and endure.”

Professor Chapman, who has spent the past 14 years in the Kimberley, adds: “We know we [mental health services] can’t stop it on our own. We have a certain role. We save one or two, but we are standing at the bottom of cliff.

“Trying to identify individuals at high risk and trying to react is like trying to capture lightning in a jar. But everyone thinks that is what we should be doing…It’s never going to work.”

*For support and information about suicide prevention, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.

*This article was originally published in Australian Doctor

NACCHO Conference Alert #closethegap :Aboriginal Suicide Prevention Conference Call for Papers



Energy is building and registrations are open for the inaugural Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Conference in Alice Springs on 5 – 6 May 2016

Every year at least 5% of all deaths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is due to suicide. This ongoing crisis is increasingly significant amongst those aged 15 to 34, where suicide is the leading cause of death, accounting for a third of all loss of life.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project (ATSISPEP) has been funded by the Australian government to investigate suicide prevention programs to determine what works, why, and how it can be replicated.

Incorporating a strong commitment to Indigenous governance, ATSISPEP is not just an exercise in desk top research. Listening to communities through personal consultation and Community Roundtables is essential to understanding the complexity of the problem, and the appropriateness of systematic, yet locally specific, solutions.

The culmination of this process is the Inaugural National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Conference.

Long overdue, this event will bring together experts and members of the Australian community from across the country to Alice Springs. For two days those gathered will exchange learnings, share lived experience and build knowledge about how we can best empower communities to tackle this entrenched tragedy.

Call for Papers

Thank you for your interest in presenting at a concurrent session at the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Conference.  Abstract submissions are now open. Sessions will be between 15 and 25 minutes and are available on both 5 and 6 May. Abstract submission deadline is 5.00pm (WST) Wednesday 23 March 2016.
Abstracts are assessed based on the following criteria:

  • Experience working in the field
  • Lived experience of people who are delivering programs or services in the community
  • Preference will be given to presentations from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people or teams of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous people

Please email Chrissie Easton, the ATSISPEP Project Coordinator an abstract on a topic you would like to present

Registration and accommodation bookings are available at 
There are a limited number of bursaries available – please contact Chrissie Easton at if you need assistance to complete the application.

Please also contact Chrissie Easton if you are interested in making a presentation at the conference of up to 30 minutes.


NACCHO Aboriginal Health News Alert: No more lies, our children should not see suicide as the solution


“18 years young, Phillinka died on October 18 last year. At the time, at her anguished mother’s request I wrote of the loss of Phillinka and of so many others in the Kimberley. I am once again in the Kimberley – surrounded by the most pristine nature and by the loss of so many young lives. For the First Peoples of the Kimberley – for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders – the Kimberley has among the world’s highest self-harm and suicide rates.”

It is not like me to cry…” – no more lies, our children should not see suicide as the solution

by Gerry Georgatos FROM THE STRINGER

Please Note : It is only at the request of Philinka’s mother’s that we have published the photo of Phillinka and used her name. Phillinka’s mother, Lena, is urging for much to change for all her people, and that her daughter’s passing brings on the journey to the changes that would have made a difference to Phillinka and the many others who we should not have lost

While in the Kimberley, I am writing this for Phillinka, for her mother Lena, for all those whom she left behind, who are at a loss, and for those since Phillinka who have been lost to suicide.

If you are an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander in this nation and aged 15 to 35 years, one in three deaths in this age group will be registered as a suicide. It is this age group’s leading cause of death. This is an abomination, moral and otherwise, an obvious indictment of our governments.

This tragic statistic should galvanise the nation – our governments – into comprehensive responses.

Suicide is a humanitarian crisis among Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples however ever so little is being done by one government after another. In many ways our governments are making it worse, on the one hand effectively neglecting this tragedy while they wax lyrical about how much they care and on the other hand they have all the wrong people and policies piecemeal responding to this tragedy but going backwards. This tragedy is indeed an indictment of our governments and of the national consciousness.

Professor Tom Calma said, “In the mid-1980s 99 Aboriginal deaths in custody prompted a Royal Commission and the current tragedy of Indigenous suicides should prompt similar attention. While some attention is being paid by governments more needs to be done to address the determinants that contribute to the psychological stressors that afflict Indigenous society.”

On average over 130 Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people ended their lives each year in the last five years. This is 30 per cent more suicides than in the ten years preceding. One in 19 Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander deaths is accounted for by suicide. But because of under-reporting issues we know that the rate is much higher. I estimate that it is between one in 10 to one in 12 suicides.

What will it take for our governments and the nation to prioritise this pressing tragedy?

How many young people such as Phillinka must be lost before this nation is disturbed into action? As I write this article, at the forefront are the facts that Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people of the Kimberley and far north Queensland have the nation’s highest suicide rates – over 70 suicides per 100,000 population – seven times the Australian overall national trend, with some parts of these regions with suicide rates up to 20 times. In the last five years in the Kimberley there have been registered as many suicides as were registered in the preceding ten years.

While in the Kimberley I have been meeting with community leaders and suicide affected families and have been heartbroken by their stories. They describe no support or standby whatsoever despite the tragedy of losing a loved one. I do realise that many services are themselves at a loss as to what to do because they are overstretched and underfunded.

It was yesterday that I sat on a rocky patch here in the Kimberley and cried after hearing a couple of mothers’ stories. It is not really like me to cry but this morning I cried again. I will tell you more.

I write again of Phillinka who died last year, October 18. There are no words for her loss. Phillinka was resilient, she was enthusiastic and she was from a large family – with a father and mother who loved her dearly. She had completed boarding school in Melbourne, at Wesley, through Yirimalay.

Her mother Lena Andrews said, “There was no-one there for us but our family, ourselves. There were no standby services, there was no-one to guide us through our grief.”

“Once again it was just families supporting families but all our families are broken by suicide, by our children jailed. We are a broken people. It cannot be this way but it is. I have lost my beautiful daughter and the pain does not go away.”

“This year I have lost my mother and my sister, more pain and no-one there for us.”

“I have considered suicide but my children keep me going.”

“I have had you listening and to call.”

The federal government should be rushing to prioritise this crisis above all else, a crisis that is shaming this nation. If this crisis is not abated, this maddening crisis is the starkest portrayal of a racist nation. There are no excuses to hide behind, no justifications, other than heartlessness.

During the last couple of years, The National Indigenous Times, The National Indigenous Radio Service (I no longer work for either of these outlets) and the online independent news site, The Stringer have led the way in sustaining the coverage on the suicide crises that most media did not utter a word about. In the last year, there has been significant coverage, particularly in The Australian newspaper, led by journalists, Paige Taylor, Andrew Burrell and Natasha Robinson, and also in the ABC, led particularly by the 7:30 Report’s Bronwyn Herbert.

Three years ago, through the National Indigenous Times I brought to the nation’s attention that the suicide rate among Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders is likely as high as one in 12 of all deaths, a horrific suicide rate. How could this be possible in the world’s 12th largest economy, in one of the world’s wealthiest nations? But Walmajarri and Bunaba Kimberley mother, Lena Andrews, can tell you why.

“Racism,” stated Ms Andrews.

“Our people are smashed by it, hurt by it, tortured by it. This is a nation of two peoples. The First Peoples and the Australian peoples and unless First Peoples do as they’re told then they are punished by every means imaginable.”

Ms Andrews lost her 18 year old daughter, Phillinka Powdrill, to suicide. Phillinka was buried in her hometown of Fitzroy Crossing. But Philinka was not someone without capacity, without bright hope for the future. Philinka had just graduated from a Melbourne boarding school.

“Our people need ‘resilience’ to cope with the racism that hurts this nation. We need resilience to deal with how we are looked at, viewed, treated, and not just by governments who are in the end responsible for the lot that is racism, but also we need inexhaustible resilience in our daily ordeals with ordinary people who have soaked up the prejudices of one generation after another.”

“We did not expect to lose Philinka. But we did. We did not expect to bury our child. Our hearts are breaking, and we do not know who to turn to. We do not know what to do.”

“One minute she is here, next minute she is gone. Our people can only cope with so much and for only so long.

“Our people are under attack every day. Governments just do not stop. It is one attack on us after another. They want to shut down our communities. They want to move us around, off our lands. They want to manage us, to do this and that to us. How much can we take, how much can we deal with, how much focus on the colour of our skin or on our identity can we deal with and stay resilient? It takes a toll on us to be made to feel different, to be made unequal and to be treated like we are shit.”

“Governments need to understand, that assimilation will kill many of our people, as it is doing every day all around us, and where it literally doesn’t kill our people, it will crush our people, as it is doing.”

“Our people are homeless, they are turned away, they fill the prisons, and they are battered and bruised. Their only hope in this terribly racist nation is to turn away from one’s own, and turn on each other, and get in bed with effectively the racists, whether they are governments or whomever.”

“We are dying.”

Ms Andrews, a former radio broadcaster in the Kimberley, has a 23 year old son in a Perth prison who I will be visiting next week. She worries whether her son will make it out alive. However, it is ten times more likely that he may lose his life in the first year post-release. Prison is a harsh punitive experience where in general people come out worse than they went in.

A damning statistic is that no less than one in ten and more likely closer to one in six of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders living today have been to prison. One in six! This too is an abomination, moral and otherwise. It is racialised imprisonment. It is racism.

Phillinka was born in October 1996, but just a little over 18 years later she would take her life. Five weeks passed between Philinka’s death and her burial. The family fought for her brother to be released for the day of the funeral of his sister but Corrective Services knocked this back.

“It broke our hearts, the decision to not let my son attend his sister’s funeral has devastated us, compounded more anguish.”

“He has been a victim of sexual abuse in prison, we are worried for him, we are now more worried than ever before.”

“It is bullshit, just bullshit.”

“How much can our people endure?”

“On top of this, the Coroner’s office did not return my daughter’s clothing which we did want returned. They destroyed it. They claimed it was contaminated. That’s just more bullshit.”

“My beautiful daughter is gone. We did everything that we could. Her graduation day at Wesley College (Melbourne) feels like yesterday.”

The National Indigenous Times allowed me to use my foray into journalism to highlight the suicide crises rife among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Indeed, this newspaper allowed for advocacy journalism, for sustained coverage and has knocked up a long overdue national conversation.

As a result of this coverage and my personal lobbying behind the scenes with one government after another, I formally met with the Federal Government, in particular with the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Senator Nigel Scullion, who has listened and has in turn funded the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project led by Indigenous Mental Health Commissioner Professor Pat Dudgeon and which includes myself as a researcher and community consultant, among other very good people. We are working, at speed, to not only identify the ways forward, as we already know much of what is needed, but also to see the ways forward at long last enabled.

But this is not enough. We need a multi-partisan Government approach to not only respond to the suicide crisis but to everything that underwrites it – the racism, the bent for assimilation, the cheating of peoples of their right to Country and of the right to various dues from their Country. I have now travelled back and forth from Western Australia to Canberra several times in the last couple of months to meet with Ministers, to meet in particular with Senator Scullion and Senator Nova Peris, because in the end it is only they who can make the real difference. The sustained coverage by The National Indigenous TimesThe Stringer and now by the general media must be matched by the right responses by our parliamentarians.

On the morning of April 16, 2014, after a 21 day vigil I left my father’s death bed for several hours to meet with Senator Nigel Scullion at the Commonwealth Offices in Bligh St., Sydney. Our meeting was about the suicides crises and of the ways forward. My father had urged me to not delay the meeting despite the risk that I would not be by his side during his last moments on this earth – something that would have torn me apart. After that meeting effectively the ATSISPEP was established and a step in the right direction taken. However it is one step. Two days later my father passed away.

Last year Professor Pat Dudgeon called for a “national inquiry into the suicide crisis of our people” coupling Professor Tom Calma’s suggestion for a Royal Commission. There should be a Royal Commission due to inaction and because of the reductionist strategies and policies and penny-pinching. We know what the issues are but the nation has to hear them and we know the solutions. The solutions are not in ‘ambassadors’ and ‘one day workshops’.

Governments will fail in many of their objectives but the one objective that they should prioritise above all others, and the one objective they must not fail in delivering, is in reducing the loss of life to suicide. There is no greater legacy that any parliamentarian can have than in having saved lives.

The First Peoples of the Kimberley, far north Queensland and of the Northern Territory have among the world’s highest suicide rates, and unless the governments as a whole step up I can state without any reservation that this catastrophic crisis is only going to get worse.

The Australian Senate will soon hear the call for a Royal Commission, for a legitimate national inquiry, will soon hear about the genuine ways forward and what they hear must not go in one ear and out the other.

Yesterday, I cried not only for Phillinka, not only for the Sturt and Carter families who in January were traumatised by inactions by service responders when their loved one was lost to suicide in Wunga, 90 kilometres from Halls Creek, not only for 11 year old Peter Little who took his life late last year and his mother the same only weeks ago but for everyone needlessly lost and all the while our governments are unresponsive.


–       Phillinka’s father, Daniel Powdrill, “You used to come to me with a smile… I can’t find the strength to accept that you are really gone. I cry myself to sleep just thinking about you. You have left a big hole in my heart and there is no one that can ever cover that.”

–       Phillinka’s mother, Lena Andrews, “When I first held you, I knew you were mine to keep, to love and to hold forever… You left a huge hole in my heart that no one can cover, no one else can replace you my daughter.”


– Declaration of impartiality conflict: The author of this article, Gerry Georgatos, is a suicide prevention researcher with various national and other projects and is also a community consultant with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project (ATSISPEP).

It is only at the request of Philinka’s mother’s that we have published the photo of Phillinka and used her name. Phillinka’s mother, Lena, is urging for much to change for all her people, and that her daughter’s passing brings on the journey to the changes that would have made a difference to Phillinka and the many others who we should not have lost.


Lifeline’s 24-hour hotline, 13 11 14

Crisis Support and Suicide Prevention

NACCHO Aboriginal Health Alert : Suicide prevention information SURVEY and leaders meeting update


“The focus of the roundtable will be on how we can best reduce the incidence of mental health conditions and suicide, and improve social and emotional wellbeing among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, Indigenous health remains this nation’s most confronting health challenge, with mental health issues in need of urgent attention. We want this meeting to develop some clear, positive strategic direction,”

Senator Scullion speaking on behalf of the three federal government ministers who will sit down with Indigenous leaders and mental health advocates today ( Wednesday)  to tackle Indigenous mental health, which they say is the nation’s “most confronting health challenge”. See full story below


Welcome to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide prevention information survey.

This survey is being conducted for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project (ATSISPEP) – a national research project at the University of Western Australia (UWA) in partnership with Telethon Kids Institute that is responding to the high levels of suicide in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.


ATSISPEP is developing a strong evidence base on effective programs, services, resources, training and other initiatives directed at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide prevention across Australia. This survey seeks your feedback, responses, and insights about any experiences you may have had with a range of suicide prevention programs, services, training and resources– either personally or in your professional capacity. The information you provide will help guide and further inform our project and strengthen its findings.

The survey takes around 10 minutes to complete and is completely anonymous. Please contact the team at Telethon Kids Institute if you have any queries about the survey, or if you would like to discuss anything further with the ATSISPEP team. Thank you for your interest and participation in what we hope will be a valuable information gathering exercise.

 Indigenous mental health: leaders to tackle ‘most confronting challenge’

Three federal government ministers will sit down with Indigenous leaders and mental health advocates on Wednesday to tackle Indigenous mental health, which they say is the nation’s “most confronting health challenge”. 

From Sarah Whyte SMH :

Health Minister Sussan Ley, Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash and Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion will meet 17 mental health advocates and seven respected Indigenous health leaders at Parliament House to discuss reducing the suicide rates of Indigenous people and associated mental health issues.

“The focus of the roundtable will be on how we can best reduce the incidence of mental health conditions and suicide, and improve social and emotional wellbeing among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” Senator Scullion said.

“Indigenous health remains this nation’s most confronting health challenge, with mental health issues in need of urgent attention. We want this meeting to develop some clear, positive strategic direction,” he said.

Suicide death rates among Indigenous and Torres Strait Islanders are more than double those of non-Indigenous people living in the same areas.

For people aged 25 to 34, the suicide rate almost triples compared with non-Indigenous people.

“Successive governments have invested heavily in culturally appropriate health programs for Indigenous Australians and, while we have had some success with improvements in life expectancy, especially with the decline in child death rates, the incidence of suicide is a continued concern and we must all work toward a coherent, national approach that more rapidly tackles these issues,” Ms Ley said.

For help or information call Lifeline 131 114 or beyondblue 1300 224 636


NACCHO Health News Alert : $26m prevention strategy aimed at troubled Aboriginal children



“Counsellors with skills and experience in dealing with troubled Aboriginal children are part of the best-resourced suicide-prevention strategy in Western Australia’s history, unveiled seven months after the death of 11-year-old Peter Little brought attention to a succession of indigenous youth suicides across the state.

From The Australian Report Paige Taylor

On average one in 20 of Australia’s First Peoples will die by suicide, this is catastrophic, but the real rate is more likely one in 10 – there are under-reporting issues. Wholesale suicide prevention for First Peoples can only succeed if it includes the redressing of inequalities in reference to the social determinants – homelessness, housing, social infrastructure, education – the elimination of extreme poverty. Without the strengthening of social health, far too many will lapse under pressures culminating in depression, clinical disorders and violence. Substance abuse are merely dangerous relief from the various personal dysfunction and sense of hopelessness.

Truth, not lies, on Aboriginal suicide rates by Gerry Georgatos (see full report below)

1.Report From The Australian Report Paige Taylor

While last week’s Barnett government budget revealed a dire financial picture and deep cuts to the public sector, it contained big funding increases for mental health and suicide prevention.

The $26 million OneLife strategy is twice as expensive as the strategy it replaces and will, across the next four years, involve schools and the community in identifying people at risk.

The state’s suicide rate declined between 2008 and 2013, largely credited to a relatively small but targeted prevention strategy overseen by Mental Health Minister Helen Morton.

But an investigation by The Weekend Australian in November revealed the state again was a suicide hotspot.

At least 12 young Aborigines had died by suicide in the preceding 11 months, twice the number shown in state government data.

Among those lost was Geraldton’s Peter Little, who took his life in October. A month later, the Williams family from the wheatbelt buried Steve, 15, a talented footballer. The same day, the Gerrard and Webster clans said goodbye to Owen, 15, an excellent hunter from Kununurra.

The new strategy includes $1.5m for improved data ­collection.

“We need far more information, far better data and in a much more timely manner so we can better understand the causes and how to intervene more effectively,” Ms Morton said.

She said the suicide strategy would establish a counselling service to specialise in helping Aboriginal people with suicidal ideation, which could have helped those such as Peter Little.

The plan included $4m for public awareness and local ­community prevention activities, and targeted help for high-risk groups.

The strategy aimed to co-opt big employers into helping with ­suicide prevention in the workplace.

Truth, not lies, on Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander suicide rates

Image - Gerry Georgatos

Suicide prevention should be one of the most urgent priorities of our times – globally and nationally. The rates of suicide should be known, disaggregated and unmasked as the humanitarian crisis that in effect it really is – though little known, suicide is one of the issues of our times. Annually, suicide takes more lives on average than wars, civil strife, all violence combined. It takes more lives annually than most diseases do. In Australia, suicides exceed road fatalities. Why then is not suicide prevention one of the national priorities?

The contributing factors need to be understood, they vary demographically and from people to people – culturally and ‘racially’. In Australia, the majority of suicides have been linked to various stressors – including mental health, various trauma, cost of living pressures, a sense of failure, depression, and among the elderly there are underlying factors such as pain. However for Australia’s First Peoples the contributing factors are markedly different – they are linked to extreme poverty and disadvantage from the beginning of life, intergenerational trauma, cultural identity, racialisation and racism. Often alcohol and substance abuse are considered by many as underlying causes but these are not underlying causes and rather they are at best contributing factors borne symptomatically of the above.

For non-Aboriginal Australians who have suicided the average estimated loss of life is about 30 years per person however for the First Peoples of this continent who take their lives the average loss per person in years is more than 50 years. To put average loss of life years per person into context, we can compare this to cancer – the estimated loss of life years per person dying of cancer is 8 years. Therefore suicide not only takes more lives but more life years. The majority of suicides by First Peoples are below the age of 35 years, with the most at-risk age category the 25 to 30 year olds.

There are other high risk groups – LGBTQI with Aboriginal LGBTQI up to four times more at-risk than their non-Aboriginal counterparts; those who have experienced prison – in the first year post-release they are up to ten times more likely to intentionally self-harm and suicide than while in prison and up to 40 times more likely than the rest of the national population; those with Acquired Brain Injury are also at between ten to twenty times more likely to endure suicidal ideation.

On average one in 20 of Australia’s First Peoples will die by suicide, this is catastrophic, but the real rate is more likely one in 10 – there are under-reporting issues. Wholesale suicide prevention for First Peoples can only succeed if it includes the redressing of inequalities in reference to the social determinants – homelessness, housing, social infrastructure, education – the elimination of extreme poverty. Without the strengthening of social health, far too many will lapse under pressures culminating in depression, clinical disorders and violence. Substance abuse are merely dangerous relief from the various personal dysfunction and sense of hopelessness.

The radical reduction in suicide rates among this continent’s First Peoples will not be achieved without social inequalities redressed, without degraded communities and towns of predominant Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander populations at long last brought to parity with the rest of the nation in terms of their social conditions.

Suicide prevention workshops, suicide prevention ambassadors and reductionist policies dealing with symptoms rather than causality will not only go nowhere but will more than likely ensure suicide rates increase, and that attempted suicides and intentional self-harm rates continue. Any strategy that suggests or claims it can achieve radical reductions with Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander suicide rates without an investment in social infrastructure is lying. By now everyone should know better.

Western Australia is the wealthiest jurisdiction in Australia. Australia is the world’s 12th largest economy. Western Australia has the world’s highest median wage. But far too many of the State’s First Peoples live impoverished, live in third-world akin conditions. Western Australia’s suicide rate is higher than the national rate. From 2007 to 2012 it had a suicide rate of 13.9 per 100,000 population but if you subtract the State’s Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander population, which is less than 3 per cent of the State’s total population, the State’s suicide rate would be significantly lower. In the same period the State’s suicide rate for First Peoples was nearly 40 per 100,000 population.

Suicide is the tip of the iceberg, the worst culmination. Nearly 400,000 Australians each year contemplate suicide, with thereabouts 70,000 suicide attempts annually.

Though the underlying issues to suicide for non-Aboriginal and to First Peoples, and the contributing and protective factors are different, there is no more pressing issue that our Governments should focus on – bona fide suicide prevention.

Western Australia has the highest rate of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander suicide in the nation, and especially so since 2005. The Kimberley region has the nation’s highest rate of suicide of First Peoples, and is only matched sadly by Far North Queensland’s First Peoples.

Mental illness is generally slated as the predominant contributing factor to suicides – Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander and non-Aboriginal however it is not the predominant factor, but something cumulative or consequent, particularly for the majority of First Peoples.

The only way forward to bring about radical reductions in the rates are through transformational ideologues – for First Peoples and their rates of intentional self-harms, attempted suicides and suicides will only be brought at least in line with non-Aboriginal rates when equality is dished out; by equality I mean the investment in the social infrastructure of communities, towns, urban masses predominately populated by First Peoples but for too long degraded by one Government after another.

Anything else is mindless hogwash, more neglect, endless racism.


– Gerry Georgatos is a researcher suicide prevention and in racism

Lifeline’s 24-hour hotline, 13 11 14

Crisis Support and Suicide Prevention Beyond Blue

NACCHO Political news :Reducing Aboriginal incarceration rates.Closing gap is ‘not the only way’ Mundine


THE head of the Prime Minister’s indigenous council, Warren Mundine, says he does not believe reducing levels of indigenous incarceration should become a formal Closing the Gap target, despite the large number of Aborigines in jails being high on his agenda.

PATRICIA KARVELAS  From: The Australian Picture There is no doubt that incarceration rates need to be dealt with’, Warren Mundine said. Source: AFP

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience suicide at around twice the rate of the rest of the population. Aboriginal teenage men and women are up to 5.9 times more likely to take their own lives than non-Aboriginal people.

REFER PREVIOUS Justin Mohamed Chair NACCHO commenting on the crisis 

NACCHO Aboriginal Health: Estimated 400 suicides in our communities in last three years

This is a crisis affecting our young people. It’s critical real action is taken to urgently  address the issue and it’was heartening to see the previous Federal Government taking steps to do that.

For any strategy to be effective, local, community-led healthcare needs to be at its core.

But so far we have not heard from this Government on the future of The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Advisory Group and the $17.8 million over four years in funding to reduce the incidence of suicidal and self-harming behaviour among Indigenous people.”

Justin Mohamed Chair NACCHO

Mr Mundine is this week in Parliament House meeting politicians in an effort to revitalise the bipartisan approach to indigenous affairs. Yesterday he met with Labor’s first indigenous MP, Nova Peris, who is also the deputy chair of the committee charged with coming up with a form of words to change the Constitution to recognise indigenous Australians.

But Mr Mundine has rejected a push by indigenous groups lobbying for a new justice target, arguing Closing the Gap targets are not the only way to deliver big change.

It comes as the Abbott government has said it was considering a target to reduce indigenous incarceration rates as a new Closing the Gap measure. Labor promised the new target during the election campaign, and the Coalition offered bipartisan support but has since been silent on the issue.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion said the government had not made a final decision but was committed to reducing incarceration rates.

“There is no doubt that we have to decrease the number of kids going into detention centres but I don’t want it to become about just numbers decreasing, it’s about how do we keep people out of the prison system and how do we work upon jobs and education programs – that’s the main focus.

“There is no doubt that incarceration rates need to be dealt with, but we need to be dealing with it in a very constructive way about decreasing crime and decreasing the number of people who are getting arrested and going to jail and how you overdo that is to break this cycle of crime.”

He said he did want “proper data” on detention and jail rates.

“I think people get too much fixation on the Closing the Gap targets, everyone knows I’m a supporter of decreasing incarceration rates but let’s just start doing it.”

He said he had become concerned that the bipartisan approach to Aboriginal affairs was breaking down.

“I want to start having the conversation with the opposition because we need to have the government and the opposition onside. The main issues on our agenda are schooling, jobs and education and health and incarceration and I want to tell them that we need to be working together and I am going to make this happen.”

Mr Mundine’s broader indigenous council has now backed proposals put forward by him, including job and training placements for indigenous teenagers in juvenile detention, first in Western Australia, then nationally.

Mr Mundine said the council’s focus must be on the missing and disengaged young people who were neither in school nor work.

Mr Mundine said a proposal by mining magnate Andrew Forrest to stop young indigenous people obtaining welfare had merit but there were scores of youth not receiving welfare because they relied on family and friends.

“There’s about 40,000 to 50,000 people not in the Centrelink system or in employment so what they’re doing is they’re living off their families,” Mr Mundine said.

“We’ve got to put in place processes to make sure they don’t go into criminal activity.”



Rates of Aboriginal suicide “a national tragedy” Tom Calma


The advisory group

The Menzies School of Health Research in Darwin is working with the advisory group headed by Dr Calma and the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) to ensure the strategy is coherent and comprehensive, and backed by a strong evidence base.

Reporter: Kirstie Parker and photograph KOORI MAIL

Reproduced from the Guardian 15 August 2012

Indigenous wellbeing champion Tom Calma has called on the Australian government to properly resource and implement the nation’s first Indigenous suicide prevention strategy once it is finalised.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s suicide rates revealed in a new Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) report were “a national tragedy” that must be addressed, Dr Calma said.

The ABS report covers the period 2001 to 2010 and actually found that the suicide rate in Australia had decreased by 17 percent over that period, from 12.7 to 10.5 deaths per 100,000 people.

But it also revealed the overall rate of suicide for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to be twice that of non-Indigenous people. Nearly 1,000 Indigenous suicide deaths throughout Australia between 2001 and 2010 represented about five percent of all suicide deaths registered in this period.

Dr Calma, who chairs the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Advisory Group, said the gap in rates of suicide in young people was particularly disturbing.

“Suicide rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander females aged 15-19 years were 5.9 times higher than those for non-Indigenous females in this age group, while for males the corresponding rate ratio was 4.4,” he said.

“This is an appalling national tragedy that is not only depriving too many of our young people of a full life, but is wreaking havoc among our families and communities.

“As anyone who has experienced a friend or family member committing suicide will know, the effects are widespread and devastating and healing can be elusive for those left behind.

“… It is time that we draw a line under this tragic situation that is impacting so significantly on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals, families and communities in this nation.”

In June, the Gillard government appointed the Menzies School of Health Research in Darwin to help develop the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Strategy.

Advisory group

Dr Calma said the ABS report highlighted the timeliness of the developing strategy and commended the government “for taking the issue seriously”. “However, I also call on the Australian government to properly resource and implement the strategy once it is finished,” he said. “Australian governments must support, and work in partnership with, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to develop these community based solutions.

“As the example of programs in the Kimberleys demonstrates, just as disempowerment is part of the problem, so empowerment of our communities must be part of the solution to suicide among our young people.”

Dr Calma said it was also vital that mainstream mental health services were properly equipped and staffed to work with young Indigenous people at risk of suicide.

The ABS report said the exact scale of difference between the suicide rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous people was difficult to establish conclusively.

National Mental Health Commission (NMHC) chairman Allan Fels said as much when he addressed the National Press Club (NPC) last week on the commission’s progress in developing Australia’s First National Report Card on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention.

“Scandalously, we don’t know the true rates in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities but it is at least 2.5 times higher,” Professor Fels said. “And for every completed suicide, there are up to 50 attempts.”

He said mental health and Indigenous health – of which mental health was a very significant component – were the two profound weaknesses of a health system that was good by international standards.

The NMHC will meet in Alice Springs next week, giving Professor Fels and commissioners, including Aboriginal psychologist Pat Dudgeon, their first opportunity to dedicate a whole meeting to Indigenous mental health, social emotional wellbeing and suicide prevention.

In his NPC address, Professor Fels expressed concern that the mentally ill could be excluded from Labor’s national disability insurance scheme (NDIS) as the federal government negotiates with the states and territories on the costs of trial sites.

He said it was “critical” the scheme covered people with serious psychiatric conditions as well as the physically disabled.

“It is a key need for the mental illness agenda,” he told journalists.

* If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, call Lifeline (13 11 14), Suicide Call Back Service (1300 659 467) or Kids Helpline (for young people aged 5 to 25 years) (1800 551 800).