Three of the country’s most powerful medical organisations are pleading with the federal government to take urgent action to stop the “unspeakable tragedy” of Indigenous youth suicide, following another four Indigenous people taking their own lives in Queensland last week, and in the wake of a major report into child suicides in Western Australia.
The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP), the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) and the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (Naccho) want an “immediate investment in Aboriginal-led mental health and wellbeing services needed to stop child deaths”.
“We are calling on the prime minister to implement a co-ordinated crisis response to urgently scale up Aboriginal-led mental health services before more young lives are tragically lost,” the joint statement said.
Aboriginal community-controlled health organisations are vital, Nachho’s acting chair, Donnella Mills, said.
“I cannot stress the urgency of the response,” she said. “If this was happening across the non-Indigenous landscape, the population would have no tolerance for it. There’d be an outcry for a response.”
Mills said the federal government must also respond to the recent report into youth suicides conducted by WA coroner Ros Fogliani.
Five of the children whose deaths were considered were aged between 10 and 14, three were aged 16 or 17, and five were aged between 18 and 24.
Fogliani said the “profoundly tragic” deaths were “shaped by the crushing effects of intergenerational trauma and poverty upon entire communities”.
“The PM needs to endorse the WA report, in a timely manner,” Mills said. “No time can be afforded with children taking their own lives.”
Aboriginal health services need to be able to employ psychologists, psychiatrists, speech pathologists, mental health workers and other professionals, the joint statement said.
“The unspeakable child suicide tragedy that has been unfolding requires a national response and the attention of the prime minister,” RACP spokesman Dr Mick Creati said. “Unless we see urgent boost to investment in Aboriginal-led mental health services, then the deaths will continue.”
On National Close the Gap Day, Mills said it was important to remember that Aboriginal-controlled organisations “are best placed to work with families and the trauma these families are experiencing”.
“It’s not just about addressing what the children need, it needs to be a community based response,” she said. “The suicide crisis highlights there is so much work ahead of us and the government must do that alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
“If you sit at the table with us, and let us speak to what our challenges are, and work alongside us, governments might achieve better targets than they are currently achieving.”
Late last year, with only two of the targets anywhere close to being met, Indigenous groups welcomed Scott Morrison’s offer of a formal partnership between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives and governments on the Closing the Gap strategy.
The terms of the partnership are expected to be announced soon.
• In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. In the UK and Irish Republic, contact Samaritans on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org