General News Politics — 07 May 2012

THE federal government will spend $6 million on community-based suicide prevention strategies in the Kimberley region over four years, starting with an allocation of $1.5 million in the budget.

The Mental Health Minister, Mark Butler, told the Herald he acknowledged that indigenous suicide rates in the Kimberley were the highest in the nation and there was a need for agencies to identify and respond faster to suicide “clusters”.

“The real challenge is that we do not have good systems in place to deal with emergency suicide clusters,” he said.

A review of the resources available to a two-person standby suicide response team in Broome would also be undertaken.

The minister said funds will also be available for a psychiatric hotline for indigenous health workers confronted with life and death “presentations on the ground” in remote communities.

Two weeks ago the Herald revealed that the tiny community of Mowanjum had become the epicentre of an extraordinary spike in indigenous suicide across the Kimberley, recording six “completed suicides” in six months and scores of attempted suicides.

In the past 12 months, there have been 25 suicides in the Kimberley region, 21 in the west around Derby and Mowanjum.

Mr Butler said he accepted the situation in Mowanjum was bad and had instructed his suicide prevention advisory council to provide advice on ways to identify suicide clusters and respond quickly. But a medical practitioner who has worked in the area criticised both the federal and state governments for failing to provide support for Mowanjum.

He said there had been 10 completed suicides in Mowanjum in the past 12 months, including a 12-year-old girl.

He said there was an appalling disparity between Mowanjum and the nearby Curtin immigration detention centre.

“Why has there been no similar awareness of or response to the epidemic of suicide that is robbing the community so close to Curtin of so many of Australia’s young people and at a much higher rate than at the detention centre?” he wrote.



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