A COMPANY that provides Aboriginal mental health training held two types of workshops including suicide prevention for Mount Isa services last week.
The Perth based managing director of Indigenous Psychological Services is Doctor Tracy Westerman, of the Nyamal People in Western Australia’s North West. She is the sister of Mount Isa Mines’ chief operating officer Mike Westerman.
Dr Westerman has visited Mount Isa 12 times, having also worked in communities such as Doomadgee.
She said the death of a 10-year-old girl in the Kimberley in March brought an increase in public attention into the issue, but that the high rate of aboriginal suicide had been of concern for decades.
There was increased lobbying and pressure for a royal commission into aboriginal suicide, and a current parliamentary inquiry in Western Australia. Mount Isa’s Ngukuthati Men’s Shed also rallied a march for Aboriginal suicide awareness in May, in which several hundred people participated in.
Dr Westerman said the cause behind the high rate was connected to trauma, related to the Australian Government’s former removal policies.
“What occurs with traumatised people is there can be challenges in relationships, including difficulty with conflict resolution.
“People who become suicidal often have an absence of effective coping strategies including defusing stress in an effective way.
“So we find that giving them the tools to cope with life stresses prevents a lot of suicides.”
Also, suicide in families increased the risk of a “copycat effect”, but a death affected people differently. Genetics and the environment were linked in the person’s decision. Dr Westerman dismissed suggestion that suicide was present in all aboriginal communities. Such messages could create a “self-fulfilling prophecy in which suicide can become normalised. While suicides are very high relative to the non-Aboriginal population, it appears to be the case that suicides occur in ‘clusters’.” If you need support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.