A comprehensive research report into the high rates of suicide in the Kimberley has called for a major change in the way prevention programs are designed and delivered that will both empower and heal Aboriginal communities.
The Hear Our Voices Report found that Aboriginal communities had a clear desire to lead their own healing initiatives, based on the value of life, culture and community.
Launched in Broome today, the research was carried out by The University of Western Australia in conjunction with the Centre for Research Excellence in Aboriginal Health and Wellbeing at the Telethon Institute for Child Health and the Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services Council, with funding from the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing.
The report authors consulted with community members in Broome, Halls Creek and Beagle Bay as well as documenting the responses from communities and governments over more than 10 years.
Report co-author and study leader UWA School of Indigenous Studies' Professor Pat Dudgeon said this report goes beyond the statistics and listens to the wisdom within the Aboriginal communities.
"The Kimberley communities want to take ownership of finding a solution," Professor Dudgeon said. "People spoke of the overwhelming need to heal at an individual, family and community level and the need to help young people reconnect with their culture, their family and themselves."
"This fits with evidence we have from other studies and also from Canada that fostering a secure sense of personal and cultural identity is a powerful protective factor against the threat of self-harm."
The report recommends:
- funding to support culturally responsive programs to combat youth suicide, starting within the three participating communities and then rolled out across the Kimberley;
- development of culturally appropriate programs to train local people, support processes for community leaders and mentors to extend their positive influence, and programs to improve young people's self esteem; and
- establishment of a local advisory or action group to identify needs and develop support services.
Professor Dudgeon says the report also highlights the impact of colonisation and a range of social and economic factors that contribute to community distress, such as access to primary health care, overcrowding, drug and alcohol abuse, and poverty.
"There is no doubt that governments have a very important role here but the clear message is that communities know themselves best and their voices need to be heard."