The Western Australian Auditor-General has criticised the implementation of suicide prevention policies by the Government as the State’s suicide rate spirals. WA has the highest suicide rate in the nation, with the Kimberley the worst affected region, while other parts of the nation are recording decreases in suicide rates.
One year ago, the Dumbartung Aboriginal Corporation, led by its directors, Robert and Selina Eggington convened a Suicide Crisis Summit, with more than 300 people in attendance including every major Government agency. But one year later the crisis continues, indeed has got worse. The Auditor-General, Colin Murphy, said that policies could have been better implemented instead many have drifted by the wayside. The State is enduring suicide rate spikes more than 30 per cent higher than the national average.
The report was tabled today to the Western Australian Parliament, describing inadequate strategies and policies. This is nothing new though, we have been inundated by one report after another from a variety of organisations, including the recent Elders Report, and not long ago the Hearing Our Voices Report and prior to that, The Gone Too Soon Report.
How many reports are needed?
In recent times, as a researcher in premature, unnatural deaths and in suicides, I have been meeting with the Federal Government to both protect suicide prevention care funding and the existing funding to other initiatives and to ensure that these funds are better targeted or shifted to those peoples who should be leading the care and programs. I have been assured by the Federal Minister, Nigel Scullion, that both he and the Health Minister, Peter Dutton, will protect suicide prevention care funding. We are also in agreement that the funds have to reach the people who need them but this is yet to be laid out as to how. I am in wait for the next meeting and the ways forward.
On the State level, the WA Government has struggled in meting out adequate funding and support to communities mired in the spates of suicides and at-risk behaviours.
Mr Murphy warned that the Government should not delay in determining its approach to the crisis.
“When we look at the implementation (of suicide prevention programs) there was certainly an opportunity to do much better, it didn’t go as well as it could have.”
“Changes were made in 2012 and 2013, increasing the number of community action plans, but other parts of the strategy were not completed.”
Mr Murphy referred to the dramatic rise in WA’s suicide rate and pointed to the most recent available Australian Bureau of Statistics data, for 2012 with a contemporary record number of suicides and with the worst affected areas in the Kimberley.
Nationally, in 2012, there were 366 reported suicides, a rise from the 194 of the previous year, but First Peoples on average record more than 100 of those suicides per year, but First Peoples are less than 3 per cent of the national population.
The suicides crisis should be front and centre of the national agenda, with urgent attention paid to the suicides crisis among First Peoples, one of the world’s worst. Suicide is not only the leading cause of death of 14 to 18 year old Australian children as has become more widely known, but the 2012 figures show it is the leading cause of death for both men and women between the ages of 15 to 44, with First Peoples having to deal with the brunt, up to 10 times the rate in various age brackets.
The report stated that, “more people suicided in 2012 than were killed by skin cancer or road trauma.”
Remote and regional Australia endures higher suicide rates but the Kimberley is the region of highest risk. Spates of suicides in recent years in the region have reached 182 times the rate of the general population, with communities such as Balgo, Derby, Fitzroy Crossing, Halls Creeks and Mowanjum with rates up to 20 times the State’s average – and WA has the highest rate of suicides in the nation.
Kimberley Aboriginal communities in Balgo, Fitzroy Crossing, Mowanjum and Derby have suicide rates up to 20 times the state average. The Kimberley has the highest concentration of First Peoples in the nation, with nearly one in two of the regional population First Peoples, and with a concentration of more remote communities in the Kimberley than in any other region in the nation.
According to the report, the economic cost to the nation from the suicides is nearly $2 billion, so therefore my lobbying in the recent past for an interim annual spend of $1 billion to end the crisis and reduce suicides overall was and is not out of place.
Kimberley MLA, Kija Elder, Josie Farrer, said that both State and Federal Governments are not doing enough to end the suicide crises.
“There is not enough funding for our people in support and counselling services, in healing and grief. They are left to themselves and to the community,” said Ms Farrer.
“The communities need not only services but also economic and social development. They are impoverished and are not able to keep up with the cost of living let alone enjoy the aspirations most of the rest of the nation enjoys.”
“Can you imagine what it is like for a young father on Centrelink or on low income to have to meet rising costs to keep a roof over his young family and to then afford nutritious food for the table and to not be able to afford all this?”
“Healthy food is much more expensive in the remote and regions than it is in capital cities and big towns. Cost of living doesn’t worry whether you are poor or extremely poor.”
Nationally, the most vulnerable age group are the 25 to 29 year old males, with First Peoples adult males suiciding at 91 per 100,000, nearly 10 times the national overall rate.
For spokespeople from political parties and various organisations who predominately sit idle but do the news grabs – a couple of polished sentences – stating that this latest report ‘suggests’ a ‘suicide crisis’, their comments are abominable, disgraceful and where First Peoples are the subject then intertwined with a layer of racism. Most of these high profile spokespeople have long known but not done enough if anything.
Labor’s Mental Health spokesperson, Stephen Dawson said, “Why is the suicide rate increasing in WA while the national average is going down?”
“The suicide crisis in the Kimberley in particular cannot be allowed to continue. It’s time for urgent action.”
Give us a break! You are in Government, do more – this is people’s pain you’re dealing with.
Mental Health Minister Helen Morton waffled, “Many changes from the Auditor-General’s report have already taken place and I am certain that the next phase of this strategy will be made sustainable, with better coordination, planning and management.”
“Tomorrow’s budget will reveal our continued commitment to those experiencing mental health issues and to preventing suicide.”
Mr Morton said the State Government had already committed funding for suicide prevention initiatives, $2.5 million to the organisation Youth Focus, $250,000 to small grants and training programs for local Governments and to community groups, and $1.6 million of recurrent funding to Lifeline.
With First Peoples, most will not go to non-First Peoples run programs or services. With everybody, people need people and in general, despite the statistics, the majority of people do not just turn to someone in the ether be it online or by phone, they need people nearby and in mentoring roles.
The funding is piecemeal and poorly directed, and just like one report after another so far, unless funds are redirected to those who should be in-charge, and they are easily identifiable, and the bureaucracy and carpetbaggers knick off, then we’ll have another report next year of how much more worse it has got.
Lifeline’s 24-hour crisis hotline on 13 11 14 provides counselling and advice to anyone in crisis.