'Unmitigated crisis': Calls for PM to act on Indigenous youth suicide

The call-to-action follows growing frustration about "government inaction" on Indigenous youth suicide.

The nation's peak medical bodies are calling for Prime Minister Scott Morrison to declare Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth suicide an urgent national priority, following the death of four Indigenous people in Queensland last week.

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP), the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) and the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) are calling for immediate investment in Aboriginal-led mental health and wellbeing services to stop child deaths.

"We are calling on the prime minister to implement a co-ordinated crisis response to urgently scale up Aboriginal-led mental health services before more young lives are tragically lost," the joint statement said.

Last month, the WA Coroner released a major report examining the deaths of 13 young people in the Kimberley.

The youngest was just 10-years-old.

None of the 13 young people who died by suicide had a mental health assessment, according to the WA coroner's report. 

More than a month since its release, Mr Morrison is yet to make a statement on the recommendations and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, who is also the Opposition Indigenous Affairs spokesperson, has not outlined a response.

The acting chair of NACCHO Donnella Mills said there is frustration that the federal government is yet to address the recommendations outlined in the report.

"If this situation was occurring in a non-Indigenous space, there would be a national outcry," Ms Mills told The Feed.

"There has been clear and distinct recommendations, but there has been no comment from the government on how they will be implemented."

Will it be another inquiry that just gathers dust?

Indigenous-led prevention needed

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander controlled services are essential, according to Ms Mills.

"This will ensure there is meaningful change," she said.

Indigenous children aged 10 to 14 are more than eight times more likely to die by suicide than non-Indigenous children, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

One in four aged under 18 who died by suicide were Aboriginal - despite making up three percent of the nation's population.

Paediatrician with Victorian Aboriginal Health Service Dr Mick Creati said Indigenous suicides could not be prevented by a "white bread psychiatry model".

“We need Indigenous and non-Indigenous people working together to address the lack of access to appropriate services,” he told The Feed.

I can’t get these kids into appropriate services because they simply don’t exist.

Dr Creati said the crisis is now on the international medical stage, with the prestigious medical journal The Lancet describing youth suicide in Australia as an ‘unmitigated crisis’ earlier this month.

Government: We are taking action

Indigenous Health Minister Ken Wyatt insists the government is taking action to tackle and reduce Indigenous youth suicide.

"Since 25 January, I have announced $7.46 million in funding for six locally focused programs to reduce the incidence of suicide," he said in a statement to The Feed.

"Respect for, listening to and learning from local cultures and traditions already underpins the Indigenous Suicide Prevention Trials in the Kimberley and Darwin."

He said the Morrison government has committed to investing $1.45 billion over the next three years into Primary Health Networks, to commission regionally and culturally appropriate mental health and suicide prevention services.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 and Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 (up to age 25). More information about mental health is available at Beyond Blue.

Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander services available are available at NACCHO member services, the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 or Headspace’s Yarn Safe.