When Adele Cox’s nine-year-old cousin took his own life 16 years ago, she knew she had reached a turning point.
Ms Cox is a member of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Advisory Group and addressed the inaugural Northern Territory suicide prevention conference in Darwin on Monday.
The NT has the highest suicide rate in Australia, and although it has dropped from 22 to 18 people per 100,000 from 2005 to today, she said a growing number of young women have been taking their own lives.
“Aboriginal suicide is different,” Ms Cox said, pointing to a loss of cultural continuity and identity, poor health, substance abuse, high levels of distress, a lack of sense of purpose and role models, and ongoing trauma, loss and grief.
Chief Minister Adam Giles said it was a very difficult issue to talk about.
“And it’s very difficult to deal with,” he said.
He has released for consultation a new Suicide Prevention strategic action plan to heal those at risk in the community.
“I think to bring the debate about suicide into the public arena is a good thing … fundamentally it affects so many people in the NT,” he told reporters.
“Let’s find ways to address it.”
Limiting welfare dependency would empower people to take responsibility for their lives and reduce the suicide rate, he said, and the government’s controversial alcohol initiatives were having an impact and reducing the number of people being jailed.
“It’s not all about medical responses, it’s about giving people hope at the start,” he said.
Ngaree Ah Kit from the Darwin Region Indigenous Suicide Prevention Network said she has been to too many funerals.
“Our most vulnerable need a suite of initiatives to help them at a time when it’s very hard to help yourself,” she said.
“When you’re down and out you just want someone to listen, someone to help you find the way back.”
This article first appeared on Yahoo News on 2 June, 2014.