Kimberley Aboriginal Suicide Prevention Plan 2021-2025 Consultation
Aboriginal communities in the Kimberley have long advocated for community-led culturally appropriate strategies and resourcing to reduce self-harm and prevent suicide in the region.
While various commitments have been made and activities undertaken over the years to reduce the impact of self-harm and suicide for Aboriginal communities in the Kimberley, these have not been designed as a single and cohesive plan for the region.
Recognising the impact of self-harm and suicide on Aboriginal communities in the Kimberley, the Western Australian Mental Health Commission – via its Western Australian Suicide Prevention Framework 2021-25 – has called for the development of a Western Australian Aboriginal Suicide Prevention Strategy prioritising a culturally secure Social and Emotional Wellbeing approach to suicide prevention with dedicated regional plans. This document is the dedicated regional plan for the Aboriginal communities in the Kimberley region (the Regional Plan).
The Kimberley Aboriginal Regional Plan identifies a range of practical, community-based approaches that represent an integrated systems-based approach to prevent and reduce the impact of self-harm and suicide for Aboriginal communities in the Kimberley. This is set out in the form of a roadmap.
Many of the strategies and activities set out in the roadmap are not new. Rather, they draw on the extensive work done by Aboriginal people and communities throughout the Kimberley over many years. These include the Kimberley Aboriginal Suicide Prevention Trial (KASPT), as well as the vast number of activities and strategies that have been documented in various reports in recent years. These include, but certainly not limited to, the following:
- The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project (2017) (ATSISPEP)
- Commitment to Aboriginal Youth Wellbeing (2020)
- The Coroner’s inquest into the deaths of Thirteen Children and Young Persons in the Kimberley Region (2017)
- The Elders’ Report into Preventing Indigenous Self-Harm and Youth Suicide (2014)
- Kimberley Empowered Young Leaders Forums (2019)
- Learnings from the message stick (2016)
- Statement of Intent on Aboriginal youth suicide (2019).
The Kimberley Aboriginal Regional Plan is one of many initiatives on foot in the Kimberley, Western Australia and across Australia whose purpose is to address the systemic challenges that are contributing to the self-harm, suicide and many of the more systemic factors that are contributing to poor health and social outcomes for Aboriginal people.
An Integrated Systems-Based Approach
The roadmap is designed to represent an integrated systems-based approach to prevent and reduce the impact of self-harm and suicide for Aboriginal communities in the Kimberley. The foundations for this are underpinned by the concepts outline in the ATSISPEP Report and the Social and Emotional Wellbeing Framework (as described in the National Strategic Framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ Mental Health and Social and Emotional Wellbeing Framework 2017-2023 (The National Strategic Framework)). Both documents are well recognised, validated and endorsed to support mental health reforms and prevent suicide amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across Australia, with the integration of the two providing a systematic framework from which to implement and evaluate suicide prevention programs that best support Aboriginal peoples in the Kimberley.
As is now well known, ATSISPEP provides a comprehensive articulation of the suicide prevention interventions for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It identifies ‘success factors’ for suicide prevention programs, and highlights where these are relevant for different groups of people within community. The ATSISPEP report recognises the role of socio-cultural determinants of health in influencing suicide risk in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on a systemic level, whilst highlighting tools or strategies that are effective in supporting more vulnerable groups or individuals at risk of suicide.
The National Strategic Framework reinforces the importance of land, community, and culture in building good psychological health and wellbeing in Indigenous peoples. This holistic and complex understanding of health, referred to as social and emotional wellbeing (SEWB), lies at the foundation of resilience, self-determination, and improved health outcomes in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The framework also presents the conceptual models of SEWB within a systemic context where social, cultural and historical factors intertwine.
Figure 1: Social and Emotional Wellbeing Framework
The integration of ATSISPEP and the concept of SEWB represents the convergence of a systems-based approach to suicide prevention (ATSISPEP) with an approach to developing the protective factors which, if present, that are known to prevent and reduce suicide prevention and self-harm amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It is this integrated model that has informed the structure and content of the roadmap that is presented below.
Informed by the integrated systems-based approach set out above, the strategies and activities set out in the roadmap have their foundation in the following three principles.
Principle 1: Prioritise culture and healing
“If we lose our culture we are lost, without it we are finished as a people.”
Culture includes connection to Country, knowledge and beliefs, language, self-determination, kinship and cultural expression. When these cultural factors are strengthened, they can have a protective effect on SEWB, reducing the risk of self-harm, suicide and suicide related behaviours. This means that culture – and the healing contribution that it can offer – must be central to all efforts to prevent and reduce self-harm and suicide amongst Aboriginal communities in the Kimberley.
Principle 2: Community Self-Determination
“Self-determination and empowerment must be given emphasis in initiatives, policies and programs relating to Aboriginal people in Western Australia.”
For Aboriginal communities and their Elders, being empowered to make decisions about the most suitable strategies and activities for their communities ensures that solutions are designed by and for Aboriginal people. This is critical to ensure that any initiative that is designed to prevent or reduce self-harm or suicide is designed from an Aboriginal perspective, and therefore recognises the importance of the various non-Western approaches to healing, community and culture.
Principle 3: Place-based approaches
“A program which is effective in one area with a defined group may not be effective elsewhere in the Kimberley, given that language, traditions and cultural practices vary across the Kimberley and reflect the diversity of Aboriginal people.”
No two Aboriginal communities are the same – customs, cultural practices, language and histories vary from community to community. Therefore, the context for each community must define how any new strategy or activity is designed on the ground and implemented, ensuring that it is reflective of the specific needs, practices and cultures of the community. It is only by doing so that the diversity of communities can be addressed adequately.
Principle 4: Sustainability and continuity
The strategies and activities relating to self-harm and suicide prevention and reduction require significant investment and a long-term commitment to change. This means that there needs to be a genuine commitment over the long-term, with continuity in programs, activities, funding and purpose to deliver meaningful change.
Practically, this requires that any new strategies and activities are funded appropriately, and that sufficient time is afforded to design, implement, evaluate and enhance these initiatives in ways that build trust amongst Aboriginal communities, rather than reinforcing the impact of short-term programs and policies that are not given adequate time to succeed.
While expressed in language that aligns to the Aboriginal communities in the Kimberley, Principles 1-3 are aligned to the Guiding Principles set out in the Western Australian Mental Health Commission’s Suicide Prevention Framework 2021-25.
 Andrew Dowadi, Maningrida, N.T. (Elders report)
 Inquest into the deaths of: THIRTEEN CHILDREN AND YOUNG PERSONS IN THE KIMBERLEY REGION, WESTERN AUSTRALIA
 Inquest into the deaths of: THIRTEEN CHILDREN AND YOUNG PERSONS IN THE KIMBERLEY REGION, WESTERN AUSTRALIA
 The Guiding Principles set out pages 20 and 21 of the Suicide Prevention Framework 2021-25 are as follows:
• Everyone has a role in suicide prevention
• Recognition that lived experience is essential to inform suicide prevention activity
• Community wellbeing and resilience are fundamental
• Evidence-informed, integrated, cross- sectoral approaches are needed
• Quality and timely interventions are available across the lifespan
• Earlier intervention to prevent and manage crisis
• Support and care is matched to individual needs and preferences
• Care is culturally appropriate and compassionate
• Communities are empowered to lead local efforts which are tailored to local circumstances and priorities.
• Individuals, families and communities are supported to recover
• A sustainable service system, which takes into account the limited resources available
The short-to-medium and long-term outcomes for the activities and strategies described above are identified below.
Short-to-medium term outcomes
- Increased understanding of the impact of social determinants and disadvantage for Aboriginal people in the Kimberley.
- Increased opportunities for communities to collectively acknowledge and understand past traumas.
- Consistent understanding and application of SEWB principles to prevent and reduce instances of self-harm and suicide.
- Decreased stigma associated with mental health issues and suicide amongst Aboriginal people in the Kimberley
- Increased level of help-seeking behaviour amongst community members and at-risk individuals amongst Aboriginal people in the Kimberley
- Increased knowledge of formal and informal support mechanisms available to individuals at-risk of self-harm or suicide to seek out help.
- Increased access to formal and informal support mechanisms available to individuals at-risk of self-harm or suicide to seek out help.
- Increased participation in community leadership and decision making amongst Aboriginal young people in the identification, design and development of activities to prevent self-harm and suicide.
- Increased number of culturally-based programs (including cultural healing programs) that support a sense of continuity and connection to identity.
- Increased availability to crisis-based and postvention services.
- Increased cultural competence for mainstream providers supporting Aboriginal people at risk of self-harm and suicide.
- Increased capacity and capability of the Aboriginal health workforce to meet the needs of the community relating to self-harm and suicide.
- Increased knowledge of the trends relating to self-harm and suicide in the Kimberley.
- Increased social and emotional wellbeing amongst Aboriginal people in the Kimberley
- Decrease in the instances of self-harm and death due to suicide amongst Aboriginal people in the Kimberley
- Reduction of the impact of Aboriginal self-harm and suicide on individuals, their families and communities
Making the Roadmap a Success
Without adequate and sustained funding, the recommended actions – no matter how well designed they are – will have little impact. It is therefore critical for the Government of Western Australia to invest appropriately and for the long-term if it is genuine in its commitment to preventing and reducing self-harm and suicide amongst Aboriginal people in the Kimberley.
Without adequate and sustained funding, this roadmap will not succeed in delivering on the identified outcomes.
With any investment must come rigorous monitoring and evaluation, both on an ongoing basis and on the achievement of defined milestones. In the case of the various recommendations identified in the roadmap, it will be essential that the intended short, medium and long-term outcomes are agreed prior to the commencement of work. This must then be coupled with investment into appropriate monitoring and evaluation processes and systems.
By doing so will allow for all of the recommended activities to be measured for efficacy on an ongoing basis, allowing for changes in direction and approach to be readily identified and acted on. It is only by adopting such a rigorous approach that will be possible to develop a responsive and effective approach to preventing and reducing self-harm and suicide amongst Aboriginal people in the Kimberley.
This roadmap provides a direction forward to reduce and prevent self-harm and suicide prevention in the Kimberley. In doing so, it has identified a number of recommendations that, if implemented effectively and in line with the principles described in the document, present an opportunity to redefine the system supporting Aboriginal people and communities that are at-risk of self-harm and suicide.
While the recommendations themselves are important, the most important factor in giving effect to the roadmap is substantial and sustainable investment by the Western Australian Government. This roadmap must not be another document that gives the community hope for better health and social and emotional wellbeing in the Kimberley, but fails to be matched by a genuine – and well-funded. This is the only way that the escalating levels of self-harm and suicide in the Kimberly can be addressed.