23 February 2017

Leaders address Indigenous mental health issues and increasing suicide statistics

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Leaders from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and health professionals from around the country gathered to discuss strategies to improve the mental health outcomes of Indigenous Australians.

As mental health issues among Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities keep worsening and with the suicide toll increasing, the need for discussion is crucial.

Kevin Cox, one of the founding members and first CEO of the Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Health Service, opened Akolade’s National Indigenous Mental Health and Wellbeing Forum in Perth on February 13.

Kimberley in the WA is one of the most affected regions, with suicide statistics being the worst in the world. The issue is especially pressing among the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth.

Despite that the Indigenous population only makes up around three per cent of Australia’s population, 80 per cent of Australia's suicides of children aged 12 years and less are of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

David Cole, founder of Balunu Foundation in Darwin works tirelessly with at-risk youth in Darwin. He works on increasing the self-esteem, confidence and emotional and spiritual wellbeing of indigenous youth so that they can become strong, balanced individuals.

The foundation has long struggled for funding as the government cut its ongoing funding to support the organisation a few years ago.

But the future of Balunu is looking hopeful, following the federal government’s announcement of a $10 million investment over three years to roll out a national indigenous suicide prevention plan.

The NT government has also announced that it will dedicate millions of dollars more on youth diversion programs.
Dameyon Bonson, founder of Black Rainbow, spoke at the conference on the need to address suicides and mental health issues among Indigenous LGBTQI people.

"As an Aboriginal gay male myself, I noticed that in a lot of the health promotion materials that there wasn’t anything that spoke positively to Aboriginal LGBTQI people," he told SBS.

He told the audience of a 13-year-old gay boy, who took his life last November after having been bullied and physically attacked.

There is currently no data on the statistics of LGBTQI Indigenous suicides, but it believed higher than the rate of Indigenous suicide, which in turn is higher than Australia's total rates.

"There are 50,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who identify as LGBTQI and a lot of them are under the age of 25," he told SBS. "We need to do better."

Despite the raw and emotional nature of the conference, many left the room feeling empowered with further knowledge and strategies and new connections.

Written by: Mimmie Wilhelmson

Mimmie grew up in Sweden and first came to Australia as a backpacker after high school. After travelling around the country for two years she returned to Europe and pursued a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism in London. But the longing for Australia and the sun became too strong. After having worked for some time in the media industry, Mimmie decided to make a change and swap the news for conferences. She now gets to do what she loves the most, meeting new people and keep learning about cultures and issues while producing conferences on current topics.

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