A culturally strong and intelligent Yawuru and Bunaba woman, Vicki McKenna, is leading a series of community consultations across the Kimberley to inform the development of a suicide prevention model that will meet the unique and culturally-sensitive needs of the region’s Aboriginal communities.
Suicide prevention is a passion for Broome-based Vicki, due to her lived experience of losing many family members to suicide. She has channelled this experience into a force for good in her current role with the Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services as the project trial coordinator for the Kimberley Aboriginal Suicide Prevention Trial.
The Kimberley was selected as one of 12 national Suicide Prevention Trial Sites by the Australian Government due to the tragic over-representation of suicide in Aboriginal communities in the region, where the age-adjusted rate of suicide is more than six times the national average.
The nine communities involved in the Trial are Broome, Bidyadanga, Dampier Peninsula, Derby, Fitzroy Crossing, Halls Creek, Kununurra, Wyndham and Balgo. Each site is developing a local project based on what community members want to do to tackle their most pressing suicide prevention issue.
Vicki’s background in mental health – initially as a child psychotherapist and counsellor, and later moving into early intervention, training and crisis response in mental health and suicide as the Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services regional social and emotional wellbeing manager – makes her well placed to engage with communities on suicide prevention.
“The community engagement process currently underway is an opportunity to be innovative and for Aboriginal people to identify how they want to address suicide in their local area.
“As a result, each community is being given a budget of $130,000 to tackle their most pressing suicide prevention issue,” Vicki said.
“We are also encouraging each community to start a broader conversation about a longer-term approach to suicide prevention, so it remains a focus area for action beyond the timeframe of the Trial.
“These consultations are a fantastic opportunity to hear the voices of our people at all stages of the Trial’s implementation, and it’s so important that we take the time to listen to what the communities want.
“If we don’t listen, respect and act on the feedback from local communities, we run the risk of limiting the impact we can have on suicide prevention,” Vicki said.
Professor Pat Dudgeon from the University of Western Australia’s School of Indigenous Studies is providing support to the Trial which is guided by the recommendations of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project (ATSISPEP).
“It’s great to have a person of Professor Dudgeon’s calibre involved in the Trial. Her support in ensuring the necessary cultural considerations are included in all aspects of the Trial is invaluable,” Vicki said.
All projects identified by the community members must fit within the systems-based approach, as identified in the ATSISPEP report.
“I have been working closely with the communities to offer guidance and support to make sure they understand how this applies to them as they develop their individual action plans.
“It is great to be getting these plans off the ground, with the support of the community liaison officers who are being employed at each of the nine sites to support each community with its chosen activity,” Vicki said.
If you find yourself in an emergency, or at immediate risk of harm to yourself or others, please contact emergency services on 000. Other 24-hour services include: Lifeline on 13 11 14 and Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.
Fiona Clark, Corporate Affairs Advisor, WA Primary Health Alliance
Tel: 0437 563 735 Email: fiona.clark @wapha.org.au
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About the Kimberley Aboriginal Suicide Prevention Trial
The Kimberley Aboriginal Suicide Prevention Trial Site is one of 12 sites nationally identified by the Australian Government as priority areas for suicide prevention due to their high-risk populations. The Trial aims to identify the best approaches to doing this, which will inform a wider national approach.
The Trial is guided by the recommendations of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project (ATSISPEP) and is focussed on the following nine areas: Broome, Bidyadanga, Dampier Peninsula, Derby, Fitzroy Crossing, Halls Creek, Kununurra, Wyndham and Balgo.
The three-year Trial comprises a planning and implementation phase and its findings and outcomes will be evaluated by the Australian Government, as part of a national evaluation.
The Kimberley Trial is led by the WA Primary Health Alliance, Country WA PHN. It has partnered with the Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services (KAMS) who is responsible for the Trial’s operationalisation. A Working Group, co-chaired by the Minister for Indigenous Health, Ken Wyatt AM MP and the KAMS Deputy CEO, has strategic oversight of the Trial and a Steering Committee has operational oversight.