Aboriginal community-led safe spaces for suicide prevention

Posted 27th June 2024

By Karyn Moyle-Egan, a Warlpiri, Eastern Arrernte and Djaru woman who lives and works in Larrakia Country, and Director of Perfectly Imperfect Consulting and the proud owner of Aunties Place.

In Palmerston, Northern Territory, Aboriginal grassroots communities are pioneering innovative approaches to mental health and suicide prevention. Grounded in cultural heritage and community solidarity, these initiatives emphasise non-clinical safe spaces that offer unique and effective support systems.

Perfectly Imperfect Consulting and Grassroots Action Palmerston have partnered to lead a community-led safe space called Aunties Place in Palmerston, Northern Territory.

The partnership program model provides support to those experiencing mental health concerns or suicidal distress through one-on-one yarning and mentoring sessions, and is facilitated by Perfectly Imperfect Consulting.

The Northern Territory faces significant challenges in addressing mental health concerns and suicide in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Karyn Moyle, Director of Perfectly Imperfect Consulting, emphasises that historical trauma, systemic discrimination and social disadvantages contribute to these challenges, and recognises that conventional clinical approaches often do not resonate with Aboriginal communities, highlighting the need for culturally appropriate and community-led interventions.

Non-clinical safe spaces are community-driven environments where individuals can find support, share experiences and engage in healing practices outside formal clinical settings. These spaces are designed to be culturally safe, inclusive, and empowering, focusing on holistic wellbeing rather than solely on mental health diagnoses and treatments.

Aunties Place is one example of a non-clinical safe space led by Grassroots Action Palmerston that provides support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Aunties Place is a ‘drop-in’ style space that provides a warm, welcoming environment as a non-clinical alternative to acute clinical services such as an emergency department for people experiencing emotional distress or suicidal crisis.

This safe space has been co-developed with Roses in the Ocean to provide a community-owned model that will empower and unite communities to be responsive to specific demographics, priority population groups, and geographic challenges. Guests to Aunties Place can connect with trained community members who have their own lived and living experiences of similar challenges. These community members offer empathetic and relatable support, creating a non-judgmental and understanding environment to address a range of underlying factors contributing to a person’s distress.

Director Karyn Moyle says that securing consistent funding, overcoming bureaucratic hurdles and addressing stigma around mental health are ongoing issues for suicide prevention initiatives in the Northern Territory such as these.

However, she anticipates future directions may include expanding these initiatives to more communities in and around the Northern Territory, enhancing peer-support worker training and integrating traditional healing practices with modern mental health strategies.

By prioritising cultural connection, community involvement and holistic wellbeing, these initiatives offer a beacon of hope and healing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

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