Calls for national Indigenous mental health body

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Calls for national Indigenous mental health body to be established after death of 10 year old Aboriginal girl

Imogen Brennan reported this story on Friday, March 11, 2016 12:40:00

KIM LANDERS: Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda is calling for every state to appoint an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s commissioner.

It comes after the suspected suicide of a 10 year girl in a remote community in Western Australia’s Kimberley.

Her death has sparked a broader coronial inquest into a spate of suicides in the region, as Imogen Brennan reports.

IMOGEN BRENNAN: The girl is believed to have taken her life on Sunday night in a small west Kimberley community, near the town of Derby.

It’s understood the 10-year-old had earlier witnessed her older sister taking her own life.

Mick Gooda is the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner.

MICK GOODA: I was just gobsmacked. I didn’t know how I’d react. You know, what do you say when a 10-year-old takes their own life? What position she was in that led her to that decision, you know?

IMOGEN BRENNAN: Indigenous people are twice as likely to suicide than non-Indigenous Australians.

One in four of all Indigenous suicides happens in Western Australia.

Mick Gooda told RN Breakfast that young Indigenous people in the state are in trouble.

MICK GOODA: Fiona Stanley did a whole heap of research in WA about 10 years ago and looked at the trauma our kids faced, and it’s generally 21 times more trauma than non-indigenous kids.

IMOGEN BRENNAN: Victoria is the only state with a children’s commissioner specifically for Indigenous children.

Mick Gooda is calling for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s commissioners to be introduced in each Australian state.

MICK GOODA: What it does, and we’re seeing it in Victoria, there’s an Aboriginal Child Commissioner in Victoria, Andrew Jackomos. He just keeps raising the issues and he’s an advocate. Unless we have those advocates like Andrew across all of the states, again kids’ issues fall through the cracks.

IMOGEN BRENNAN: There have now been 19 Indigenous suicides since December in the Kimberley and Pilbara regions.

In January the Federal Government committed $1 million to tackling the high rates of Indigenous suicide in the state.

The WA coroner this week announced an inquest will be held into suspected Indigenous suicides across the Kimberley and Pilbara regions in the wake of the 10 year old girl’s death.

DAMEYON BONSON: All these ideas are really great first steps, but there is a lot of stuff that needs to be transferrable onto the ground.

IMOGEN BRENNAN: Dameyon Bonson works in suicide prevention with Indigenous communities in the Kimberley.

He says any suicide prevention program needs to be led by the community with the help of Indigenous experts who are already working in the field.

DAMEYON BONSON: I would like to see that there would be a national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide prevention organisation set up so that we can actually be this go to point for organisations like my client’s, for Beyond Blue, for Headspace, for Suicide Prevention Australia, because them themselves don’t even have an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person on their board.

IMOGEN BRENNAN: That’s an idea that’s also been raised by psychologist and Professor Pat Dudgeon from the University of Western Australia.

Her areas of research include Indigenous mental health and suicide prevention.

PAT DUDGEON: Suicide is the last tragic, horrible act of a lot of the mental health problems and issues that are confronting Indigenous people. You know, I think that there needs to be a whole commission that looks at that and looks at services – you know, in some places there are no services – ensures that they are coordinated, ensures that there’s funding available for programs and things are done properly where Aboriginal people are properly engaged.

If I could wave a magic wand, my suggestion would be that I think we need a national Indigenous mental health commission.

KIM LANDERS: That is Professor Pat Dudgeon, from the University of Western Australia, ending Imogen Brennan’s report.

And if you or anyone you know needs help, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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