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Suicide rates are more than twice as high in young Indigenous Australians compared to non-Indigenous Australians

Dr Tracy Westerman is founder of The Westerman Jilya Institute for Indigenous Mental Health.

On World Suicide Prevention Day, 10 September, The Westerman Jilya Institute for Indigenous Mental Health (“Jilya”) will hold a fundraising gala dinner to address the shocking rates of Indigenous child suicide in Australia.

Data from the National Mortality Database and the Australian Bureau of Statistics Causes of Death from 2016 to 2020 showed the rates of suicide deaths per 100,000 people among Indigenous Australians were 16.7 and 45.7 in those aged 0–24 and 25–44 years, respectively.

These rates were 3.2 and 2.8 times as high as in non–Indigenous Australians in the respective age groups (5.3 and 16.4 per 100,000, respectively). 

Suicide deaths also represent a higher proportion of deaths in young Indigenous Australians age groups compared to non-Indigenous Australians.

From 2016 to 2020, almost a quarter (24%) of deaths in Indigenous Australians aged 0–24 was due to suicide, compared to 17% in non-Indigenous Australian

Dr Westerman, a former Australian of the Year (WA), and founder of Jilya, has long been considered a world leader in Indigenous mental health and suicide prevention.

“For decades, we’ve had the highest rates of Indigenous suicide deaths anywhere in the world. In some areas, like parts of the Northern Territory and Far North Queensland, it’s four times the rate,” Dr Westerman, who has been a psychologist for over 20 years, said.

“We are finding, heartbreakingly, that many of these suicide deaths are young children.”

Dr Westerman started her charity after becoming increasingly frustrated by the Federal Government’s lack of action to stop youth Indigenous suicide.

“As an Indigenous psychologist, and someone from a remote area myself, the thing that was really frustrating for me was there a real disconnect to what communities were crying out for – they were basically saying we need help – but then the government would fund alcohol restrictions,” she said.

“They would fund everything but suicide prevention programs.

“I know that suicide prevention is really complex, and if you throw culture into the equation, it becomes even more challenging,” she added.

The Dr Tracy Westerman Indigenous Psychology Scholarship Program was born out of Dr Westerman’s frustrations. Her charity has now become the voice of bereaved Indigenous parents and communities who are still crying out for help and unable to access lifesaving mental health support services.

“It is fair to say that the scholarship and Jilya initiatives have captured the hearts and minds of Australia,” she said.

“In just 18 months, we have managed to fund 41 Indigenous psychology students across Australia.”

Jilya’s mission is to #BuildAnArmy of Indigenous psychologists, and they work amongst Australia’s highest-risk Indigenous communities.

“If you understand someone’s cultural background, and worldview, then your ability to prevent and treat mental health issues is a lot more efficient,” Dr Westerman continued.

“Indigenous children should not be dying just because there’s a basic lack of access to essential services, such as psychologists, in rural and remote communities. That shouldn’t be happening in a first-world country.”

Dr Westerman hopes the Jilya Gala will unite people and raise awareness of Indigenous youth suicide.

Dr Westerman says there is also a big gap in support for bereaved Indigenous families.

“It’s heartbreaking. After a suicide, most of these families don’t even get a knock on the door from bereavement counsellors,” she said.

“There’s also a stigma around suicide that’s it’s contagious. We aim to try to bridge that gap with our psychologists.”

All funds raised will go towards the Jilya Institute to support the advancement and mentoring of future Indigenous psychologists into Australia’s highest-risk communities.

Housed in the majestic Winthrop Hall at UWA, The Jilya Gala will feature a star-studded line-up of exciting artists, performing in an intimate, engaging setting.

The MC for the evening, Tina Altieri, is a TV News Presenter for the Seven Network and a sought-after MC and professional speaker. A dynamic and engaging communicator and journalist who has earned respect through her 30 years in the Australian broadcast news business.

“Together we can show that young Indigenous Australian lives matter, and that they matter to all Australians equally,” Dr Westerman added.

The Jilya World Suicide Prevention Day Gala Dinner will also announce the 2023 scholarship recipients.

You can purchase tickets to the gala or help #BuildAnArmy by visiting: https://www.thejilyainstitute.com.au/

Individuals and businesses can contact Jilya at coo@thejilyainstitute.com.au for gala sponsorship information. 

If you or someone you know needs support, please contact:

Lifeline, 24-hour support, 131 114
Beyond Blue, 24-hour support, 1300 22 4636

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Ryan Fritz

Ryan Fritz started The Advocate in 2014 to provide not-for-profits and charities with another media platform to tell their worthwhile hard news stories and opinion pieces effortlessly. In 2020, Ryan formed a team of volunteer journalists to help spread even more high-quality stories from the third sector. He also has over 10 years of experience as a media and communications professional for not-for-profits and charities.

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