A NEW research report exploring the escalating suicide toll in the Kimberley has called for culturally based community programs that are designed to empower Aboriginal communities.
Jointly conducted by the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, UWA and the Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services Council, the research project consulted the views of community members in Broome, Halls Creek and Beagle Bay in the Kimberley region.
The ‘Hear Our Voices’ report found there was a consensus among Aboriginal communities to lead their own empowering initiatives based on the value of life, culture and community.
The report also recommended that programs needed to be culturally-based to counter the problem of high youth suicide rates within the three participating communities.
UWA Associate Professor Roz Walker and senior researcher for the project, says there have been very few empowerment programs, which have focused on healing and enhancing people’s cultural strengths and identity, as an approach to suicide.
“Aboriginal people need to be involved in interventions that will impact them. If they are not involved, it is likely that the intervention will achieve limited success,” A/Prof Walker says.
“At the same time, the cultural difference between different indigenous groups also needs to be recognised. “
“These differences require different frameworks and interventions, driven and informed by Aboriginal people, which can then be adapted to local community groups. “
She says, “The evidence from other communities suggests that culturally appropriate empowerment programs can facilitate effective process of self-reflection and initiate important sustainable change from within the community.”
“Such programs have shown to provide people with the tools to deal with grief, loss and sense of powerlessness, which are factors that directly contribute to them taking or attempting to take their own lives.”
A/Prof Walker also suggests that community based programs should start by addressing Aboriginal peoples’ experiences and promoting a holistic conception of healing and emotional well-being.
She says while government policies aimed at tackling the high suicides have good intent; these are primarily pilot programs that usually do not last for more than a year primarily due to the lack of funding.
“The framework and words of these policies are good, but the implementation isn’t.”
A/Prof Walker believes that change can only be achieved by enhancing the protective factors and strengths inherent within aboriginal cultures through the provision of culturally-based and Aboriginal led community empowerment programs.
Furthermore, she says, there needs to be a range of different programs and services offered at different levels.
“The Empowerment, Healing and Leadership program is an example of a program that has been developed out of this research project.”
This program aims to encourage groups of people from particular communities to come together and do modules that facilitate the understanding of their history and sense of self.