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Families urged to look after each other as Kimberley region records seven suicides in seven weeks

Erin Parke ABC News 24 December 2014

Seven people are believed to have suicided in WA's Kimberley region in the last seven weeks, as communities are urged to look out for each other over the festive season.

Researchers have identified Christmas as a high-risk time for Aboriginal people considering self-harm.

Suicide rates spike in the Top End throughout the wet season.

The most recent suicide occurred just two days before Christmas.

Indigenous mental health commissioner Pat Dudgeon, who is currently researching patterns in Aboriginal suicide rates, said it was important for families to pull together.

"There's a lot of emotional vulnerability around Christmas for everyone," she said.

"There is much more stress around the holiday season, the hype around what special foods, decorations, and gifts to buy, which for many are beyond their budget.

"For many people it can also be an especially lonely period where they no longer have loved ones around."

Professor Dudgeon is head of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide prevention project, which is trying to identify the most effective ways to bring down the extraordinarily high suicide rates in Indigenous Australia.

Indigenous Australians are six times more likely to commit suicide than other Australians and the Kimberley in particular has one of the highest suicide rates in the world.

Bunuba and Gija woman Adele Cox, who is a researcher on the project, said Christmas could be a bad time for vulnerable people.

"There are more people partying, you know, having a good time, and there's the issue of alcohol and drug use," she said.

"We also see the increase in domestic violence call-outs, fighting within families, and that all adds up.

"It is important that we're all on alert, and provide supports to those people and families who are most vulnerable."

Gerry Georgatos The Stringer 5 October 2013

A bad year for suicides

There are indications 2014 has been the worst year for some years in terms of Aboriginal deaths in WA.

Researcher Gerry Georgatos said there had been more than 30 Aboriginal suicides so far this year, including at least 18 in the Kimberley.

"It's horrific and it hasn't improved," he said.

"We thought the last three or four years, considering the previous clusters of deaths at Mowanjum, Balgo and Derby, that we would have improved, but there haven't been responses adequate from government to actually address and remedy."

The suicide prevention project is examining the different programs in place and is due to deliver its recommendations to the Federal Government mid-next year.

Professor Dudgeon said one of the priorities would be empowering Aboriginal communities themselves to take control of the response.

"We've never given Aboriginal communities - individuals and organisations - an opportunity to determine what the issues are and how they should resolve them," he said.

"I'm hoping one of the outcomes of our project is to advise how to change funding of indigenous suicide prevention, so we can empower communities and individuals to take charge of it."

Bishop urges family and friends to reach out

Catholic Bishop of Broome Christopher Saunders has dealt first-hand with the fall-out from the deaths.

He said he had buried too many people in 2014, and spent countless nights sitting up late with grieving friends and family.

"I can remember the days when we didn't have suicides," he said.

"In my 38 years in the Kimberley, there were 20 years where we didn't have this situation.

"It's only been in the last 18 years that suicide has raised it's ugly head."

He urged people to reach out to one another in ways they might not have before.

"The devastation of suicide can be overcome, but it needs positive efforts and positive thoughts by all of us, not just the service providers, but more intensely in fact, the families and friends," he said.

Anyone in need of support is urged to contact LifeLine on 13 11 14.

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Suicide epidemic image: Lives are being extinguished across the north of the country. ( www.bepartofthehealing.org )