Making connections and saving lives in rural Australia with I-ASIST

Posted 27th November 2023 in Sector news

Eli Toombs is a proud Aboriginal man with links to Euahlayi on his grandfather’s side, and ties to Kooma on his grandmother’s side. Eli is the national Indigenous training lead for LivingWorks who leads and coordinates the trainer network and delivery of I-ASIST (Indigenous Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training).

Eli has shared information with Everymind about I-ASIST and how it can support suicide prevention in rural and remote Australia.

I-ASIST began in 2017 when 94 Indigenous communities and organisations were consulted as part of a research initiative led by Professor Maree Toombs during her time at the University of Queensland. The consensus was that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities wanted support with mental health and suicide prevention.

In response, researchers approached LivingWorks — which already conducts an evidence-based Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) program — to co-design a program specifically for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities based on the ASIST model.

Eli stated that it was important to understand that each Indigenous community comes with its own cultural customs and protocols, and the approach to training needed to reflect this, to be able to deliver a culturally safe and appropriate workshop that is specific to the needs and resources of each community.

I-ASIST training is delivered to the workforce, friends and family within our communities, along with many outreach services that visit our communities. It asks us to be human, connect, deeply listen and provide safety for people in crisis.

I-ASIST has a governance group which is a key body to ensure the integrity of the I-ASIST program and how it is delivered. Although-ASIST is delivered primarily with Aboriginal-controlled organisations and Aboriginal-controlled health services and Indigenous communities across the country, I-ASIST is not limited to these spaces. Suicide is everybody’s business and the LivingWorks vision is to see all people equipped with these life-saving skills through the I-ASIST training.

The benefit of the I-ASIST program for communities in rural and remote Australia is that it provides the skills they need to respond to suicidal behaviours and crisis. Providing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with these skills has the potential to make a big impact in reducing suicide in these communities.

One of the early success stories of the program was in an Aboriginal community in Cherbourg, South-East Queensland. It had 11 suicides in the 12 months prior to first contact with I-ASIST. In response, the community was saturated with the I-ASIST program, with over 70% of the community members trained. In the following 14 months after training, there were zero suicides. This community was empowered by knowing the early signs of suicidal behaviours and having increased confidence to do an intervention and seek appropriate follow-up support. Everyone who completed the I-ASIST program training put suicide safety stickers on their letterboxes to indicate they were open to talk to mobs who were having thoughts of suicide.

Subscribe to eNews

Keep up to date and sign up to the Life in Mind eNews, sharing some of the latest news and research in suicide prevention.

Sign up now