This is the story of suicide prevention in two remote Indigenous communities. The suicide prevention story from the Tiwi Islands (Northern Territory) and Yarrabah (Queensland) presented here is told by the communities themselves. It is a story of community empowerment in each place and as such supports the existing work of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project (ATSISPEP).
In the past two decades the communities of Yarrabah (Queensland) and the Tiwi Islands (Northern Territory) have both seen suicide rates fall dramatically from the very high rates experienced in the 1990s. While understanding suicide in remote communities has been challenging, these two communities have a story that, when told from the community’s perspective, might provide evidence of how trauma and healing impact suicide rates and how community-based solutions lead to success.
- Interviews with 31 Elders and community representatives suggested that a loss of cultural identity and cross-cultural confusion is one of the main reasons for rising Indigenous youth suicide rates and despite good intentions, government programs have failed to stop the problem.
- The people of the Tiwi Islands know that the islands are not incubated or immune from future suicides. But they also know (as do the non-Indigenous people who work in services on the islands) that the solutions are held by them in their cultural knowledge and traditions, ‘what has served us best for thousands of years remains the best response to whatever we face in the years to come’
- It is the community that has control of current intervention and prevention, but as previously, there will likely need to be culturally sensitive support from external agencies, that bolster the culturally-driven responses from within the community
- The story of suicide prevention in Yarrabah is not a closed subject. In the same way the Tiwi Island communities worry and guard against future suicides, so too does the community of Yarrabah. Unfortunately, as the story was being told, listened to and written, suicide again visited the community in deeply traumatic ways for community members and service providers alike.
The case studies in this report demonstrate how theory and practice can come together through empowered, local responses to the devastating events that took place in each community. Capturing these stories demonstrates that learnings are best documented and understood when communities have the opportunity to first create, and then second, tell their own story.