• A new report into suicide and self-harm in the Kimberley region shows it still has one of the worst suicide rates in the country. (AAP)Source: AAP
Researchers and medical services in the Kimberley say they are "concerned but not surprised" at the findings of a new UWA report outlining the still disproportionately high suicide and self-harm rates in the region.
Keira Jenkins

25 Aug 2020 - 4:51 PM  UPDATED 25 Aug 2020 - 4:52 PM

Suicide rates are still disproportionately high in the Kimberley compared the the rest of Western Australia, and the rest of the country, according to a new report from the University of Western Australia (UWA).

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are 42 per cent of the population in the Kimberley but make up 72 per cent of the suicides in the region.

Professor Pat Dudgeon, who co-authored the study, said the findings confirmed what the Aboriginal community already knew.

"We know that Indigenous suicide is bad - it's twice that of other Australians across the nation and we know that the Kimberley is a hot spot," she told NITV News on Tuesday.

"It showed that the suicide rate was three times the national average but if you compare it to the Indigenous statistics they were twice that of other Indigenous people.

"We expected that. The Kimberley has had a very long history of elevated suicide rates."


Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services CEO, Rob McPhee said although unsurprising, the findings do raise a number of concerns for him and for the community.

"There are a number of concerns, the report shows the rate of suicide in Indigenous people in the community is three times greater than the national average and two times greater than the Indigenous national average," he said.

"That's concerning to us. Also of concern is the increase in young people self-harming."

Also of concern to Mr McPhee was the rates of self-harm spiking after hours - during the evening and the night - when most services are closed.

Mr McPhee said to support the community's needs on this, services must be empowered to be flexible and to deliver what the community wants.

"Services need to have funding flexibility," he said.

"Change needs to start at the funding bodies. We also need to see services engaging with the community. The numbers of people self-harming outside of those 9-5 hours isn't something we haven't heard before.

"We need a rethink of service delivery to make sure services are meeting the needs of the community."

One of the recommendations in the report outlines the need for services to review themselves and their work.

Professor Dudgeon said this could go some way to addressing the spikes in self-harm and suicide after hours.

"People say anecdotally as well that suicides aren't happening between 9-5, it's usually happening in the evening," she said.

"We know that from our self-harm data that it's certainly after hours so even if some places stayed open until 9pm or 12am, if you had one hub people could go to or people could drive out if they needed to."

Also of concern is the "fragmented" way data is collected on suicide and self-harm.

Professor Dudgeon said researchers had to pull together hospital, police, and coroner's court data, which wasn't always collected or reported in a cohesive way.

Professor Dudgeon said of particular concern was the way that 'self-harm' is defined is different depending on who is collecting the information, and sometimes it is not collected at all.

But Mr McPhee said he hopes this report is just the beginning, or a new way of collecting data so it is more uniform.

"Data and data sovereignty is important for us all working in suicide prevention," he said.

"We can use the data we collect for improving our services for our people."

Mr McPhee said while the report does show "alarming" statistics, on the ground there is important and positive work being done, fostering change.

"The Kimberley is a strong region, a good region, and there's positive things happening," he said.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact: Lifeline on 13 11 14, the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 or find an Aboriginal Medical Service here. There are resources for young people at Headspace Yarn Safe.

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