Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities: health, wellbeing and suicide
Indigenous suicide is a significant population health challenge for Australia. Suicide is a major cause of Indigenous premature mortality and is a contributor to Indigenous health and life expectancy gaps. Two national projects undertaken by UWA researchers – the National Empowerment Project (NEP) and The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project (ATSISPEP) – have contributed significantly to the knowledge base on how to address this health challenge and have influenced Government policy. These projects have increased awareness in community based and Indigenous led solutions, as well as informing policy changes at the Federal level.
Impact Case Study
Indigenous suicide is a significant population health challenge for Australia. Suicide is a major cause of Indigenous premature mortality and is a contributor to Indigenous health and life expectancy gaps. In 2014 it was the fifth-leading cause of death among Indigenous people with an age-standardised suicide rate around double the non-Indigenous rate.
Two national projects undertaken by UWA researchers – the National Empowerment Project (NEP) and The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project (ATSISPEP) – have contributed significantly to the knowledge base on how to address this health challenge and have influenced Government policy. There have been two significant impacts arising from this research:
- An increase in awareness within Indigenous communities and Government that solutions to address Indigenous social and emotional wellbeing and suicide are possible by drawing from Indigenous knowledge and using culturally appropriate tools; and
- Informing policy decisions made by the Federal Government in relation to Indigenous health strategies and suicide prevention programs.
The NEP project was an Australia-wide research project which began in 2012 and concluded in early 2017. The project developed a nationally applicable Aboriginal led Empowerment, Healing and Leadership Program to promote social and emotional wellbeing and reduce community distress and suicide in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. The findings from the NEP consultations represent a significant body of knowledge about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social and emotional wellbeing and mental health. The findings make a substantial contribution to the evidence base about the issues impacting communities and have been acknowledged in a several Government policy responses.
The ATSISPEP project evaluated the effectiveness of existing suicide prevention services and programs over a three-year period. The ATSISPEP final report summarises the evidence base for what works in Indigenous community-led suicide prevention and presents tools to support Indigenous suicide prevention activity.
Increase in awareness through NEP is achieved and demonstrated by considerable engagement:
- Consultation of more than 450 Aboriginal people across 11 national sites
- Development of a national network of 11 community sites and partner organisations
- Upskilling more than 40 Aboriginal community co-researchers
- Delivery of eight national training workshops
- Delivery of social and emotional wellbeing workshops at 11 community sites
- Development of a comprehensive Cultural, Social and Emotional Wellbeing (CSEWB) Program
- Establishment of a strong, mutually beneficial partnership with the Queensland Mental Health Commission and Ngoonbi Community Services Indigenous Corporation to support and monitor a 12-month pilot of the CSEWB Program at two sites in Queensland
- Trialling and delivery of CSEWB program at two community sites with a total of 168 participants
- Establishment of an evidence base for Aboriginal cultural, social and emotional wellbeing Increase in awareness through ATSISPEP is demonstrated by:
- Twelve Indigenous community suicide prevention roundtable consultations that took place across Australia 2015- 2016 (ATSISPEP)
- Participation of Indigenous people in the inaugural National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Conference held in Alice Springs May 2016, that brought together experts and members of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and the wider community (attendees by state: 37% WA; 18.5% NT; 14% NSW; 12.5% QLD; 7.5% ACT & Victoria; 3% SA). In total 370 delegates attended the Conference (ATSISPEP). Impact through informing
Government policy decisions is demonstrated through:
- The ATSISPEP Report informs and provides the foundation for the Federal Government’s policy response to the Indigenous suicide crisis, which has claimed 680 Aboriginal lives between 2011 and 2015.
- Indicating the Government’s intention to use ATSISPEP research to inform decisions, Nigel Scullion, Senator for the Northern Territory and Minister for Indigenous Affairs stated, “This is not a report that is going to be on a shelf gaining dust, I assure you.”
- Former Health Minister Sussan Ley confirmed the Government had worked closely with the report’s authors to ensure recommendations could be quickly implemented on the ground. “The report’s findings will also inform future funding decisions for suicide prevention and mental health programmes and how best to deliver them for Indigenous communities. The Coalition Government has committed to trialling the community-led approaches recommended in the report. This is reflected in our election commitment to invest $192 million in mental health and suicide prevention, which includes the establishment of 12 suicide-prevention trial sites, including one in the Kimberley.”
- At the Kimberly suicide prevention roundtable held in October 2016 it was agreed that the recommendations of the ATSISPEP Report should form a blueprint for the suicide prevention trial. It was also agreed that the ATSISPEP Evaluation tool should be used to guide the Primary Health Networks and Kimberley Suicide Prevention Trial site. Outcomes from the roundtable will help plan and inform the design of the trial, local suicide prevention activity, and inform the design of strategies in the national trial.
- Decisions by the Australian Government to establish the 12 suicide-prevention trial sites have been informed by ATSISPEP research.
The NEP research project led funding from the Queensland Mental Health Commission to Ngoonbi in order to trial the CSEWB Program at two Queensland community sites. Queensland Mental Health Commissioner Dr Lesley van Schoubroeck said “the National Empowerment Project, with the local support of Ngoonbi Co-operative Society, has made a positive difference in these communities in less than two years.”
The UWA School of Indigenous Studies is focused on researching Indigenous mental health and wellbeing and specifically on Indigenous cultural, social and emotional wellbeing and suicide prevention. The two significant research projects undertaken from 2010 to 2016 which have informed the impacts are the National Empowerment Project (NEP) and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project (ATSISPEP). The NEP and ATSISPEP projects have evaluated the effectiveness of existing suicide prevention services and programs and have delivered a number of tools and recommendations. This research has substantially contributed to the understanding of Aboriginal cultural, social and emotional wellbeing as well as informing decisions on the national Indigenous suicide prevention agenda.
The research was funded by a series of grants; including funding from the Department of the Prime Minister and Department of Health totalling almost $4 million. The research has built on the expertise of the research team and was undertaken from 2010 to 2016. The research was led by UWA Professor Pat Dudgeon, a leading expert in Indigenous social and emotional wellbeing and suicide prevention, and was undertaken in partnership with researchers from the Telethon Kids Institute, community partner organisations and local communities.