Perth Roundtable on Suicide Prevention convened by Professor Pat Dudgeon

Perth Roundtable on Suicide Prevention convened by Professor Pat Dudgeon

In terms of ways forward with funding levels of culturally based community driven methodologies in suicide prevention care the Federal Government, through Senator Nigel Scullion, the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, has committed to what needs to be done. This is all being framed at the moment by Indigenous Mental Health Commissioners Professor Pat Dudgeon and Dr Tom Calma, Western Australian Mental Health Commission member, Adele Cox and myself, among others in response to Senator Scullion’s commitment.

Within a month the initial framework will be in place.

In the meantime, following the positive ways forward chartered by the recent Indigenous Suicide Prevention Care Roundtable in Perth, convened and coordinated by Professor Pat Dudgeon, many are arguing that the opportunity to fund cultural methodologies should not be missed.

Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Culture Centre coordinator Wes Morris has spent eight years lobbying State and Federal Governments for funding for cultural methodologies, such as KALACC’s Yiriman programs (Men’s and Women’s) to respond to the rising suicide crises, which particularly hurt the Kimberley region.

He said that years have passed dominated by clinical therapeutic treatment programs but which have not reduced the suicides. Mr Morris referred to coronial inquiries several years ago to the 2007 and 2008 shocking spates of suicide in parts of the Kimberley – particularly Derby, Mowanjum and Balgo. The State Coroner, Alastair criticised Government inaction.

“Seven years later we are still here with massive investments to clinical therapeutic programs but what are the outcomes seven years later?”

“These clinical programs have failed to address the crisis.”

The recent Roundtable moved, “The State of Western Australia invest in culturally based methodologies to the same extent as they invest in clinical therapeutic programs and that successful programs like the Yiriman Project be funded by the State Government.”

The clinical therapeutic programs to date have drawn $51.5 million.

Mr Morris said it is a positive step that Senator Scullion is leading the charge in responding and that something “at last is being seen from the Federal Government” but he asked “what about the State Government.”

“We now share the optimism as much as it is related to the Commonwealth (in reference to suicide prevention care funding) but we entirely despair of anything good coming from the State Government.”

Mr Morris referred to “five and a half years of exhaustive years of dialogue with the State Government” through COAG processes, through the Tripartite Forum, through Kimberley Futures, and other forums and reviews but the upshot of these was that “we are still approaching the starting line.”

Mr Morris recently wrote to the State Director General of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, Cliff Weeks, “calling him to urgent action, to show some leadership.”

“No response to date.”

World-renowned Canadian suicide prevention care academic, Emeritus Professor Michael Chandler who recently delivered a keynote speech at the Healing Centre in Canberra said that exclusive spending on clinical therapeutic programs was money spent “fishing in the wrong pond.”

“Communities need to own their own cultural past, their languages, services and curriculum. We must develop markers in communities to engage people,” said Professor Chandler.

He said that without these markers communities have high suicide rates and with them lower rates. Professor Chandler said there are fundamentals that need to be addressed for any First Peoples across the world who were disenfranchised by colonial impacts.

“High suicide rates among Indigenous peoples around the world are a product of colonial impacts.”

He said where their identities are being erased that this is a “formula for suicide”. First Peoples must be free to determine and manage their own fates.

In a 2012 ABC radio interview, Professor Mick Dodson said, “I was disappointed this morning to hear the Western Australian Minister announce that he is going to pour money into psychiatric services. Well, hello! Here is something that a dozen psychiatrists couldn’t fix.”

“What makes for good policy are things like Yiriman – it is a powerful testament to community action and should be supported because what else can the Government point to that is working, I would like to know. If they say well let us put the money into psychiatrists then show me how that works?”