Minister vows to reduce Indigenous suicide rate

By Melissa Coade

November 5, 2021

Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt
Former minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt’s loss in the 2022 election demonstrates how Indigenous MPs are as exposed to election loss as is any other MP. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

Ken Wyatt has underscored the ‘complex and urgent’ challenge that Indigenous people are dying by suicide at twice the rate of other Australians, vowing to use ‘every tool at our disposal to have a substantial impact’.

At a virtual address for the launch of the first suicide intervention skills training program for Indigenous Australians on Wednesday, the minister for Indigenous Australians said the I-ASIST program would serve to close the gap. He lauded the community-level change the program promised, and the generation of Indigenous healthcare workers it would train

Living Works I-ASIST will be an important tool in Closing the Gap and ensuring a sustained reduction in the number of suicide deaths down to zero,” Wyatt said.

“We know that there is a need to reach people in distress earlier to prevent the onset of suicidal behaviour. A focus on prevention and early intervention with a more integrated and compassionate mental health system is key.”

The minister added that the National Agreement on Closing the Gap signed by governments last year created, for the first time, shared accountability, greater transparency and embedding working in partnership across all levels of government and the Coalition of Aboriginal Peak Organisations. A commitment under target 14 of the agreement would lead to annual reporting from all jurisdictions on their progress to achieving eliminating the suicide rate among the Indigenous population all together, he said. 

“Our government will continue to partner at the national level with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders in mental health, suicide prevention and social and emotional wellbeing,” Wyatt said. 

“We will also continue to work with communities and Indigenous organisations to better design and deliver mental health and suicide-prevention services that meet the needs of Indigenous Australians.”

Wyatt said the added vulnerability of Indigenous peoples to poor mental health and risk of suicide had been heard ‘loud and clear’ by the federal government in a series of official findings from the Productivity Commission’s Inquiry Report on Mental Health, the National Suicide Prevention Adviser’s Final Advice, as well as the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System.

For this reason, the 2021-22 budget included the single largest Commonwealth investment in mental health and suicide prevention in Australia’s history — a record $2.3 billion, including $79 million specifically for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health and suicide prevention,” Wyatt told the I-ASIST launch event. 

This week a final report was published by the select committee on mental health and suicide prevention, which also called for ‘whole-of-government’ and ‘whole-of-parliament’ approaches to address the issue across Australian society more broadly. 

The committee made 44 recommendations, including approaches to ensure health and suicide prevention policies were high on government policy-making agendas.

Lifeline Australia chair John Brogden welcomed the series of recommendations, which canvassed policy development and review, research, workforce planning, funding and structural reform.

“In particular, we welcome the Committee’s recognition of the importance of the volunteer workforce and lived experience in supporting those in need,” Brogden said in a statement.

“Our 11,000 volunteers, including 4,000 trained crisis supporters, are the backbone of Lifeline’s services, providing support to thousands of help seekers each day. Their voices, and the voice of people with lived experience of mental health crisis, need to be heard in policymaking.

The report also considered the long-term impact of successive traumatic events in Australia, citing the effect of heatwaves, floods, cyclones, bushfires, hail storms, drought and the COVID-19 pandemic on individuals. The committee recommended that research be undertaken to obtain evidence on the longitudinal impacts of successive traumatic events on people’s mental health.

Brogden said LifelineAustralia’s work with clients gave the suicide prevention service a unique understanding of how these crises compounded on people’s mental health for the long run.

“At Lifeline, we set up our bushfire support line, 13HELP, in response to the 2019 bushfires, but to this day we still get calls from people who are dealing with the trauma of the 2013 bushfires,” Brogden said.

“We fully expect this long-term impact to be mirrored in the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We need to be prepared not just for that, but for whatever is around the corner, so that nobody is left without the support they need at their time of crisis,” he said.


Minister tries to map path to boost vaccine rates among Indigenous Australians

About the author
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
The Mandarin Premium

Insights & analysis that matter to you

Subscribe for only $5 a week


Get Premium Today