Friday, October 29, 2010

Call for action as indigenous suicide reaches crisis level

Indigenous communities are experiencing a suicide crisis, with the rate of deaths and attempts increasing, a Senate hearing has been told.

Speaking yesterday at a Senate community affairs committee, Greens indigenous affairs spokeswoman Rachel Siewert said urgent action was needed on suicide prevention in indigenous communities.

The opposition's indigenous affairs spokesman, Nigel Scullion, said he had been told six indigenous people younger than 18 in Northern Territory communities had killed themselves in the past four weeks.

Senator Siewert said the remote Aboriginal town of Balgo in Western Australia was also experiencing similar suicide numbers.

Health Department assistant secretary for mental health Leo Kennedy told the committee the department was aware of the high rates of indigenous suicides and would look to develop a response by the end of the year.

Balgo parish priest Father John Purnell told The Weekend Australian later he knew of 12 suicide attempts among local youth in the six weeks he had been based in the remote community, in the southeast Kimberley region of Western Australia.

Just $8.1 million of the government's $277m suicide prevention package will be rolled out this financial year, with only a fraction reaching indigenous health services.

Australian of the Year and mental health expert Pat McGorry said the rate of suicide in indigenous communities was two to three times higher than in the general community.

"If the road toll was increasing and was higher for certain areas of the community in the same proportion it would be seen as a crisis and an area for urgent action," Professor McGorry said.

Vasek, Lanai. 2010. "Call for action as indigenous suicide reaches crisis level". The Australian. Posted: October 23, 2010. Available online:

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