The suicide rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples for the period 2001 -2010 were twice that of non-Indigenous Australians (ABS, 2012). The high rates of suicide among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are commonly attributed to a complex set of factors which not only includes disadvantage and risk factors shared by the non-Indigenous population, but also a broader set of social, economic and historic determinations that impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social and emotional wellbeing and mental health.

The Strategy has been informed by extensive community consultation across Australia and by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ holistic view of health that encompasses mental health, physical, cultural and spiritual health. Participants at the community consultations consistently called for community-focused, holistic and integrated approaches to suicide prevention with an emphasis on investment in “upstream” prevention efforts to build community, family and individual resilience and on restoring social and emotional wellbeing.

Key Findings:

  • Current guidelines and protocols for mental health care, hospital emergency services and other areas of social and emotional wellbeing practice can be improved in terms of their specificity for suicide prevention and appropriateness for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
  • Guidelines, resources and information about specific successful models of culturally appropriate engagement are needed. Concerns that a checklist approach to cultural competence may be superficial and counter-productive need to be met by trial and rigorous evaluation of culturally adapted practice models and training approaches with and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander personnel.
  • Over a 10 year period, the Strategy will aim to achieve measurable improvements in each of the identified target areas and within this timeframe it is possible and appropriate to set targets in consultation with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health Advisory Group which can be related to the National Mental Health Commission’s National Report Card and the Roadmap for National Mental Health Reform 2012-2022.
  • Longer-term capacity building (eg data development, building the community sector, building the evidence base, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce participation, evaluation of outcomes of specific initiatives and of the overall strategy) will yield reportable outcomes over the 5 and 10 year periods of the Strategy.
  • There are comprehensive plans to develop and support the participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the suicide prevention and wellbeing workforce such as nurses and counsellors.

The Strategy demonstrates the Government’s commitment to working with other portfolios and across all levels of government to reduce the longer term incidence of suicidal and self-harming behaviour amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This includes addressing other social determinants that contribute to social disadvantage for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples such as unemployment, education, housing and community safety and focusing on building strong, resilient families, young people and communities. 

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