Government urged to address ‘epidemic’ Indigenous suicide rates in remote Australia

suicide in katherineAboriginal communities across the nation are calling on the Federal Government to urgently address what they describe as an “epidemic” of Indigenous suicides in remote Australia.

The crisis is most acute in the remote Kimberley region of Western Australia, where a 10-year-old girl recently hung herself.

Indigenous leaders there say the Federal Government must act now to prevent further deaths.

The call comes as the first-ever National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Conference begins tonight in Alice Springs.

Aboriginal people and health workers will travel from across Australia to attend the conference in the wake of escalating Indigenous suicide rates, particularly over the past five years.

The Aboriginal Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project, chaired by West Australian academic Pat Dudgeon and former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner Tom Calma, has been mapping suicide rates.

Mr Calma said suicide rates in remote Australia could be described as an epidemic.

He said there had been a doubling of Indigenous suicide rates in the Kimberley during the past five years, and that the problem was larger than official statistics suggested because many deaths were never reported to the coroner.

For more than three years, $17.8 million in funds earmarked for Indigenous suicide prevention has remained unspent by the Federal Government.

The funding was tied to a national indigenous suicide prevention plan devised by Labor under the Gillard government, but never implemented.

Incoming Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion quarantined the funds upon the change of government in 2013, and the funds are now attached to a national suicide prevention strategy to be rolled out from August.

Senator Scullion’s office referred questions on the issue to the Federal Government’s Assistant Minister for Health Fiona Nash.

A spokesman for the Minister said the Australian Government funded a number of suicide prevention and mental health programs to which Indigenous people had access.

“The Australian Government’s mental health reforms were only announced in November last year, and since this time, Primary Health Networks have been working hard to develop needs analysis, identify service gaps and overlaps and produce work plans in preparation for July 1,” he said.

“It is important that this methodical planning work is completed prior to the flow of funding.” To read more at ABC click here.

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