The IASP 10th Asia Pacific Conference, held on the Gold Coast from 3-5 May 2022, showcased suicide prevention initiatives and research designed with and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Presentations highlighted the lasting impacts of colonisation and dispossession on the social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and the need to honour culture and country in developing supportive interventions.
Throughout the opening plenaries, Professor Pat Dudgeon from the Centre of Best Practice in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention (CBPATSISP) reminded delegates that Australia’s First Nations peoples experience rates of suicide that are twice that of non-Indigenous Australians. It is also important to look at different ages and regions, as when these rates are broken down further, a different situation emerges. The suicide rate for young Indigenous peoples is five times the national rate and when you look at suicide hotspots such as the Kimberly, the rate is seven times the national average.
Day three of the conference saw oral session 11 dedicated to showcasing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide prevention research and initiatives.
Mandy Gibson, Senior Research Assistant at the Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention (AISRAP), Griffith University, explained that while it is widely accepted that the suicide disparities between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples result from historical and continued acts of colonisation, this has not proportionally informed our approaches to research policy and practice. Interventions and research need to be guided by community empowerment and cultural connectedness at all levels. Ms Gibson presented findings demonstrating that indicators of cultural connectedness within communities, such as traditional language use or participation in cultural activities, are protective against suicide for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young peoples. The research team found that this holds true even in communities that experience the highest levels of disadvantage. In fact, for communities that experience the highest levels of discrimination, cultural connectedness conveyed the greatest protective factor against suicide for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young peoples. The published research paper has been translated on Life in Mind here.
Project Yarn Circle
Charles Rolls, Founder, Y2K (Youth 2 Knowledge) and Mandy Gibson presented on the development and evaluation of the Project Yarn Circle. This initiative aims to build resilience to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth suicide through cultural connection. The school-based program is run in the format of yarning circles, for students to get together and share information and culture. Community Elders, as well as mental health services and practitioners, are invited to attend sessions as a way of sharing and connecting with cultural knowledge and ways of supporting social and emotional wellbeing. The program was found to increase cultural connectedness scores, and other indicators such as ‘confidence in ability to cope with problems’ and ‘positive ideation’ also increased.
“Elders for millennia have told us the importance of cultural connection as a core part of young people’s wellbeing. We’re very excited that this research is to support and build the base around what has been known for millennia on these lands.”
Supporting young Aboriginal peoples who self-harm
Michelle Lamblin, Orygen’s Project Manager of Youth Suicide Prevention, launched Orygen’s guide for communities and families in supporting young First Nations peoples who self-harm. The guide is an adaptation of an existing resource for young people and their families, developed in partnership with the Centre of Best Practice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention (CBPATSISP) and led by Associate Professor Roz Walker. Ms Lamblin described the consultative process undertaken to adapt the resource specifically for Aboriginal communities in Western Australia, including parts of the Kimberley region. The adapted resource focuses on a strength-based approach and provides strategies to strengthen spirit and bring young people back to the community to promote cultural healing. The resource is available in pdf and hardcopy from Orygen’s website here.
In the final keynote session of the conference, Leilani Darwin, Director of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Strategy at the Black Dog Institute, detailed her lived experience growing up as an Aboriginal person and with a family who immigrated to Australia. Ms Darwin described her journey of connecting with mob and identity, a journey that continues, and the reasons why she works in the suicide prevention space.
“My people are impacted by poor health outcomes and dying by suicide at far higher rates than anyone else in this country and yet it’s still an issue. I cannot tell you how many times I live Groundhog Day in fighting the same battles. But I will, because my people need to live.”
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