The Mental Health Association of Central Australia (MHACA) hosted the Central Australia Suicide Prevention Forum in Alice Springs in June this year, supported by Wesley LifeForce and the Northern Territory Government Department of Health.
Given the nature of remote central Australia, the forum provided an opportunity for people to connect, share learnings from local programs that are working on addressing suicide, and have collective discussions that support reducing suicides in the community.
A range of local, state-based and national organisations and programs presented at the two day event held in June. These included Akeyulerre Healing Centre, Central Australian Aboriginal Congress, headspace Alice Springs, Thirrili Indigenous Suicide Postvention Service, Royal Flying Doctor Service SA/NT, Tangentyere Men's Family Safety Group, Lifeline Central Australia, 13YARN, Northern Territory Primary Health Network, NT Health Suicide Prevention Coordinator, and R U OK? Stronger Together.
Participants in attendance included suicide prevention service providers, funders and community members who took part in group discussions about what is working well in suicide prevention and what the challenges are, and workshopped ideas on how to best work together.
Key challenges for suicide prevention raised in the discussions included:
- Social issues relating to their remote location, for example the social determinants of health such as housing and food insecurity or lack of employment, as well as confidentiality issues in small communities
- Staffing and work-related issues in a remote location, such as such as transient nature of the remote workforce and staffing shortages, limited training opportunities for staff, and limited access to telecommunications and technology
- Issues relating to the health system more broadly, for example limited mental health services covered by Medicare, or the need for those seeking support to have to retell their story many times in order to gain access to the services needed
- Cultural concerns, for example a lack of appropriate and culturally safe service options for First Nations people, and shame, embarrassment and stigma in seeking mental health support.
Key opportunities to work together and further suicide prevention efforts identified included:
- Support for communities to have conversations around suicide and identify signs of distress. Working with community Elders and advocates is highly important in this process.
- Supporting culture in communities and community-building activities
- Developing more appropriate resources, co-designed with community, and resources in language
- Data collection to build business cases for expanding services, and work together to support and adequately fund programs that are working well.
“Acknowledging the high rates of suicide for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the forum had a strong focus on exploring the challenges of providing culturally appropriate services to remote community members,” said Nicole Pietsch, Communications and Suicide Prevention Officer for the Mental Health Association of Central Australia.
“A key outcome from the workshops was identifying the opportunities to be able to work together better in Central Australia, and advocate more strongly for the needs of people who have limited access to services and whose voices are not always represented in national conversations on reducing suicide.”
Feedback on the event was positive, as a much needed opportunity for professional development and connection, and a chance to promote discussions about suicide in the community.