Report calls for change in Indigenous suicide prevention in Australia

Professor Pat Dudgeon, Australia's first Aboriginal psychologist

A new report led by the University of Western Australia calls on the federal government to support a radical overhaul of suicide prevention programs including an Indigenous community-led national prevention plan. The report’s lead author Professor Pat Dudgeon (pictured) from UWA’s School of Indigenous Studies, said the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project (ATSISPEP) had evaluated 88 suicide prevention programs Australia-wide to identify the successful ones. Dudgeon is the first Aboriginal psychologist in Australia. Indigenous people in Australia are killing themselves in epidemic numbers. See below the horrific statistics compiled by suicide researcher, Gerry Georgatos.



“Nearly one in three young Australians (aged between five and 17 years) who takes their own life is Indigenous and this report was about finding out which programs were working to help us improve our response to suicide prevention,” Professor Dudgeon said.


“We also developed an evaluation tool to ensure vital factors were employed in suicide prevention programs and to measure the level of success of these programs. This gives the funding bodies an understanding of what works and the people running the programs some certainty in long-term funding.”


The report made 17 recommendations for government and those working in Indigenous suicide prevention, including funding to divert Indigenous young people from the criminal justice system through sport and other activities or access to quality education and employment.


It also recommended prevention programs should focus on healing and strengthening social and emotional wellbeing and cultural renewal as well as developing specific programs to meet the needs of those who had experienced child sexual abuse.


Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services should remain the preferred providers to mental health care within their communities and Indigenous young people should be supported and trained to work in suicide prevention among their peer group.


Dudgeon said the project team had run a pilot critical response project in WA, working with Indigenous families affected by suicide trauma to map long-term support needs, galvanise more effective care coordination and report where needs were not being met in communities with limited or no services.


“The ATSISPEP report has also helped us to raise awareness of the pressing issues that can lead to suicide,” she said. 


Dudgeon, from the Bardi people of the Kimberley region in Western Australia, has made a significant contribution to promoting and enhancing the mental health and human rights of Indigenous Australians as Australia’s first Aboriginal psychologist.


She is a National Mental Health Commissioner and director of the National Empowerment Project, an Indigenous suicide prevention project working with 11 Aboriginal communities around Australia.


Youth suicide is an issue close to home for Indigenous politicians. An Aboriginal Member of the Senate, Pat Dodson, broke down when launching the Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project in Canberra, as he recalled a late night call informing him a young relative had committed suicide.


"There's nothing worse ... than to get a call in the middle of the night or the early hours of the morning from a relation, and most of us experience this as Aboriginal people, to tell you that someone has died, someone very young has taken their life," Pat Dodson said at the function in Canberra, the capital.

Dodson was speaking about a beloved "12-year-old boy, whose parents found him hanging from a tree in the yard," he said, with tears in his eyes. Even though he ignores the reasons that drove him to do that, he used the example as a way of highlighting the importance of the report.

"(It) is the work of people like yourselves, about people who are in pain, who are in loneliness, who are dejected." Senator Dodson (opposition Labor) thanked Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion (Conservative) for his spirit of bipartisanship on the issue of Indigenous suicide. Scullion thanked colleagues from the coalition, Labor and the Greens for coming together to launch the report, commissioned a year and a half ago.

"What you see is a new way of doing business," he told reporters. The research was commissioned as a response to questions over Scullion’s plans to address the high rates of Indigenous suicide, and how he was going to invest funds.

"I said 'well I don't know, because we don't know what works and what we don't know what doesn't work'," Scullion said. He described the report as remarkable, saying the government will adopt all the recommendations which relate to the terms of reference.

The minister doesn't think more funding is required, but people need to know what their role and responsibilities are. Health Minister Sussan Ley, who recently travelled to Broome in north Western Australia for a round-table and will go back before the end of the year, said the burden of suicide falls unfortunately and unfairly on Indigenous people. "We know what we need to do, we just have to work out how to do it," she said.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale said the causes of the "epidemic" are deep and complex and he welcomed all parties working together.

Recommendations include making sure all Indigenous suicide prevention activities feature community-specific and community-led programs, as well as government support to train and retain more Indigenous people working in mental health. The report indicates that Indigenous people identifying as LGBTI should also be represented on all government and mental health advisory forums.


The numbers compiled by Gerry Georgatos

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicides are now at one in every 19 deaths is a suicide officially. However, I estimate that because of under-reporting issues it is one in every 10 deaths. Nearly one in three (30 per cent) of the nation's child suicides are of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. In 2015, there were 152 suicides of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, an increase for the fifth year in a row and it will be higher again for 2016.


Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged 14 years and less and they suicide at 9 times the rate when compared to non-Indigenous children 14 years and less. Suicide is the leading cause of death for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders aged 15 years to 35 years. Suicide of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders has increased by 50 per cent nationally over the last 5 years compared to the first decade of this century.


The suicide rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders of the Kimberley (northern Western Australia), and far north Queensland regions are among the world's highest. There are some communities with suicide rates over a long period of time at up to 600 times the national rate. The most elevated risk group to suicide are individuals who as children were removed from their biological families. 


Real time suicide data: A discussion paper

ATSISPEP | Media and publications


Solutions that work: what the evidence and our people tell us
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project Report

A series of fact sheets have been prepared on a number of issues relating to suicide prevention. They are based on extensive research from literature review and roundtable consultations undertaken during 2014/2015.

Fact Sheet No. 1 What we know about suicide prevention for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Fact Sheet No. 2 The valuing of upstream approaches across the lifecourse.

Fact Sheet No. 3 Suicide prevention for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people.

Fact Sheet No. 4 The social determinants of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide.

Fact Sheet No. 5 Examining the risk factors for suicidal behaviour of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

Fact Sheet No. 6 Addressing the relationship between racism and inequality in suicide.

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A prominent Aboriginal activist who took part in the 7-18 November 2016 Marrakesh Climate Change Conference of the United Nations says “First Nations Peoples must demand our participation in the planning of Australia’s climate change strategies, which they have agreed to at the Paris conference”. Governments are meeting in Morocco’s fourth largest city (population 928,850) to discuss next steps after the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

Ghillar Michael Anderson, convenor of the Sovereign Union of First Nations Asserting Sovereignty writes in a media release: "First it's important to know that the delay in countries signing the Paris Agreement was caused by both Australia and the USA
threatening to walk away if other parties refused to permit various out clauses.

"Notable and critical examiners of the Paris Agreement all agree that the symbolism was great for the world facing catastrophes because of climate change, especially those of the small Pacific islands and low coast lands.

"In reality the Paris Agreement leaks like a sieve and permits too many escape clauses for the major polluters and countries promoting extractive industries, despite the overall great objectives of the Paris Agreement.

"As Aboriginal Peoples of the world the Paris Agreement acknowledges us in the preamble where it states:

‘The Paris Agreement affirms the importance of traditional knowledge of Indigenous Peoples as well as local knowledge systems in adaptation to climate change:    

Indigenous Peoples' traditional knowledge related to their food sources and subsistence practices, flora and fauna and relationships with their traditional lands, waters and other natural resources are the basis of their traditional economics as well as their cultures, identity and spirituality. Indigenous Peoples' inherent rights to their lands, cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, land, resources and subsistence practices are affirmed and recognised in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The Paris Agreement specifically recognises the importance of Indigenous Peoples' traditional knowledge in adaption actions and in recognition of the need to strengthen such knowledge, technologies, and practices it establishes a platform for the exchange of experience and sharing of best practices on mitigation and adaptation in a holistic integrated manner.

A parallel inter-faiths conference in Fez, Morocco’s second largest city (population 1.1 million) published a call for a universal climate conscience which included recommendations

- To consider climate change as a major threat to our life here together, to peace in the world, to the future of humanity and to life on earth;

- To foster dialogue between religions, beliefs and cultures in order to strengthen the awareness and responsibility of citizens and peoples of the world towards the environment through a new ethic based on an environmental, climate and societal responsibility.


Anderson Ghillar spoke on patrimony and transmission of values, ancestral knowledge and inherited environmental practices.

The session was introduced with the following programme statement:

'The depth of cultures, traditions and civilisations are rooted in true knowledge, too often neglected when they actually constitute the essence of our infinity with our world. This profound rupture between humans and nature has occurred with modernity, and the leading cultures have put the equilibrium of us all in peril. Thus, Humanity holds both the capacities of its own demise as well as the implements to lead a harmonious relationship with the cosmos. In order to forge a new creativity, we need to explore and valorize cross-cultures, the exemplarity of knowledge and practices that are, unfortunately, too often deeply buried in our memories.'

Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu among top religious leaders to declare continued use of fossil fuels ethically untenable

Australian faith leaders join growing call for urgent climate action, challenge to sovereign wealth and super funds: sever fossil fuel investments

Australia, November 16 — A groundswell of faith leaders from across the world including Australia call for massive financial shifts, requiring divestment from fossil fuels and investment into renewable energy and support for the poor and those most vulnerable to climate change.

Leaders from global faith groups, financial institutions and foundations call on sovereign wealth and pension funds to rapidly end trillions in investments related to fossil fuels and invest in renewable energy in line with the Paris Agreement. The COP22 Interfaith Climate Statement joins a growing call for urgent action on climate change.

Signatories to the Interfaith Climate Statement include His Holiness the Dalai Lama; Monsignor Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences; Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, General Secretary, World Council of Churches; Sayyid M. Syeed, Islamic Society of North America; Archbishop Desmond Tutu; and over 220 other leaders from around the globe. Other signatories include senior Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, Sikh, Muslim, Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Episcopal, Baptist, Pentecostal, Lutheran, Quaker, Unitarian Universalist, Indigenous and other spiritual leaders.

The Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC), Anglican Church of Australia, Catholic Earthcare Australia, the Federation of Australian Buddhist Councils and Multifaith Association of SA collaborated on the Australasian effort.

ARRCC has forged invaluable links through promotion of ethical, environmentally sustainable lifestyles, respect the Earth’s precious natural resources, and faithcentered public policies on climate justice.

Thea Ormerod, ARRCC President, pointed to the need for urgent action on climate change: “The world has lost precious time in the last few decades, as countries have held back from acting with wisdom, self-transcendence and care for the global common good. Now change needs to happen at emergency speed. We pull together as a human community, or we all lose.”

Rev. Dr. Vicky Balabanski, Director of the Forum on Religion and Ecology, noted that “Each religion speaks about issues of value and meaning, and I urge the decision makers to recognise that this united call of religious leaders is about the fundamental value of preserving and valuing life — of humans, others species and eco-systems, whose flourishing is threatened by climate change. In order to preserve and enhance our shared life, we need to act now and scale up action on climate change.’

Anne Markey, Lead for Goolwa Dharma Group and the Ashtree Sangha in Adelaide, pointed out that “Our world is dependant on us and we are dependant on our world.

With this comes a call for responsibility, care and understanding. Every effort must be made by every human being to honour this connection. We now have a precious opportunity to act collectively to heal our world, our earth, our mother, our body.”

The Statement includes a set of imperatives designed to speed a transition to a low carbon future in a timeframe consistent with the goal of limiting temperature rises to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels. The calls included shifting public finances away from fossil fuels, increasing financing to end energy poverty with renewable energy, and ensuring a just transition that protects human rights and vulnerable communities.

The faith and spiritual leaders are also urging their own communities for more commitments to divest from fossil fuels and invest in renewable energy.

On 10 November, the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) released a major announcement that it would commit to divest its investments from fossil fuels and encourage its two constituent organizations and five national affiliated institutions to do so as well. This marked the world’s first divestment announcement from a Muslim institution.

“According to Islam’s most basic and fundamental teachings, human beings have been uniquely charged with the great responsibility of being Guardians of the Earth.

It goes against the mission of the ISNA to invest in fossil fuel companies whose operations and products cause such grave harm to humanity and to Creation,” said Dr. Azhar Azeez, President of the Islamic Society of North America.

More than 30 faith-based organizations from around the world collaborated on the Statement and handover event, including several based in our region.

The event also included presentations by philanthropic foundation leaders. Mark Sainsbury, Chair of the Mark Leonard Trust, made the financial case for divest invest: “The Paris Agreement, new regulations and technological innovation will see fossil fuel companies lose value and market share to sustainable energy technologies. In fact, it’s happening already. We’re in a sustainable energy revolution and I believe it’s wiser to invest in the low carbon technology of today and tomorrow, not the high carbon technology of yesterday,” he said.

Ellen Dorsey, Executive Director of the Wallace Global Fund, stated, “Governments have significant influence on global finance with their investment assets. Nations can play a critical and stabilising role in expediting the transition from a fossil-fuel based economy to a net-zero carbon economy, mitigating the financial and humanitarian risks of dangerous climate change. Nations’ sovereign wealth funds must be invested consistent with the commitments made in Paris.”

Rev Fletcher Harper, Executive Director of US-based GreenFaith said, “Religious and spiritual communities recognize that the earth is a gift, and that it is our responsibility to protect it. In the face of the climate crisis, we are all required to act and to immediately shift away from fossil fuels and toward clean energy. Faith communities are also united in their concern to care for the most vulnerable and are committed to bring distributed, clean power to the 1.1 billion people globally who lack access to electricity by 2030.”

The side event was hosted by GreenFaith and Divest Invest. GreenFaith is an interfaith environmental organization that inspires, equips, and mobilizes diverse faith communities for environmental action. Divest Invest encourages individuals and philanthropic institutions to accelerate the transition to a clean energy future.

Philippa Rowland from ARRCC, Catholic Earthcare Australia and Multifaith SA has been on the ground in Morocco for two weeks and is available for comment.

More information: 

▪ 1. COP22 Faith Statement   

▪ 2. Archbishop Desmond Tutu video on divestment 

▪ 3. Islamic Society of North America Divestment and Reinvestment Resolution (see also Islamic Society of North America becomes world's first Muslim institution to divest ) 

▪ 4. Light for a New Day: Faith and Energy Ethics, essays on energy ethics from diverse faith traditions

▪ 5. List of faith-based groups that collaborated on COP22 Faith Statement 

▪ 6. Photographs from the event are available at no costUse credit as provided.


Media Contacts



• Philippa Rowland, Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (0429 828412 / 0417 799360 Australia, 15 November on)



Comment - Islamic perspective: 

Dr Daud Batchelor, Chair, Brisbane Muslim Fellowship 

+07 3162 5637 or +0413 067 160,


Coordinating contact:

 Gillian King, Australian Religious Response to Climate Change, 0407 953 959



Ciara Shannon, GreenFaith

(+212 609 300 479 Morocco)