Community-led approach to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide prevention

Posted 27th June 2024

By Kellie Stephenson​​​​, Acting Director, Mental Health, National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO)

The National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) is the national leadership body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health in Australia.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are disproportionally impacted by suicide. In 2022, suicide accounted for 4.6% of all deaths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people when compared to 1.8% for non-indigenous Australians (AIHW, 2024).

For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, especially those living in remote and regional areas, there are significant barriers impacting access and utilisation of mental health services such as culturally unsafe services.

Despite these statistics and barriers to culturally safe care and support, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continue to demonstrate strength, connection and resilience in the face of ongoing impacts of colonisation, racism, discrimination and intergenerational trauma.

NACCHO’s Culture Care Connect (CCC) program is an innovative, community-led approach to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide prevention. 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. Foundational to the program is the CCC model of care, developed as a person-centered model, that wraps around an individual through connection to culture and community.

The CCC program is funded by the Department of Health and Aged Care until June 2025. Since its inception, the CCC program has established 36 community-controlled suicide prevention networks (CCSPNs), including state/territory-based networks and 38 aftercare services across the country.

Central to the success of the program is community involvement in every step of development through consultation to co-design, ensuring that services are delivered for community, with community, by community. This means that each CCC service is place-based and responsive to the priorities and needs identified by community. The program centres on self-determination and community-led action while ensuring national consistency.

The CCC program sites have seen an increase in facilitation of local suicide prevention networks, including strengthening and engagement from mainstream services (e.g. police, hospitals and local services), and aftercare services providing support for community members when in crisis.

Another strength of the program is the development of workforce capacity and capability through resourcing and support. Cultural and clinical supervision for aftercare staff is critical, as is a focus on self-care throughout the onboarding process. Communities of practice provide opportunities for ongoing sharing of successes and challenges. Continuous quality improvement processes have been included in the program so that lessons learnt are incorporated as the program develops.

CCC is exemplary of how government can work in partnership with the community-controlled sector to implement programs that are developed in alignment with the priority reforms of the National Agreement on Closing the Gap. NACCHO continues to advocate to government for the program to be expanded nationally and for funding to be sustained beyond June 2025.

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