On World Suicide Prevention Day, a dedicated research and training institute has been launched to try and reduce the rate of suicides in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
Lindy Kerin

10 Sep 2020 - 7:13 PM  UPDATED 17 Sep 2020 - 9:12 AM

The Westerman Jilya Institute for Mental Health has been officially launched in Western Australia.

"It’s a realisation of a lifelong dream to be honest, so I’m the happiest person in Australia," Nyamal psychologist Dr Westerman told NITV.

Jilya means my child in Dr Westerman's Nyamal language.

"It was triggered obviously by the horrific reality, that we had the highest rates of child suicide in the world in our own backyards. Children as young as 10 choosing the option of death instead of life. 

"So, the fact that Jilya means my child, is really about our vision. What we really want to do is ensure that we have the best possible clinical and cultural practice to ensure our best opportunity of a future free of a generation of child suicides that we’ve experienced now for decades."

The Institute will also look at incarceration rates and child removal rates in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. 

"It's offensive to me that we have a first world country, and we've got the highest rates of child suicide in the world, the highest rates of incarceration in the world and you could mount an argument that we've got the highest rates of child removals in the world.

"So the Jilya Institute wants to focus on all of that, in terms of putting evidence based programs in place so we can skill up a workforce around those programs over time," said Dr Westerman.

The psychologist from the Pilbara region of Western Australia has trained more than 30,000 clinicians in culturally appropriate psychological approaches and delivered her mental health and suicide intervention programs into remote Aboriginal communities throughout Australia.

She said it's her plan to build an army of Indigenous psychologists across the country.

"As psychologists we know that the first step to heal is that your pain is understood, your pain is validated, and as Aboriginal people we understand what it's like to walk along in a black persons shoes. 

"I want hundreds and thousands of Indigenous psychologists, so that every single person, every child can access the service that every Australian has a basic right to, children should not be dying as a result of a lack of access to services," said Dr Westerman.

As part of her campaign to build an army, the psychologist has announced the first recipients of scholarship in her name.

The 13 recipients Dr Tracy Westerman Indigenous Psychology Scholarship Program come from across the country.

Tex Garstone (WA)
Dom Barry (SA)
Shaun Garlett (WA)
Charlotte Sapio (SA)
Anika Gosling (WA)
Michael Cullen (SA)
Kiera-Lee Carrol (WA)
Corey Kennedy (SA)
Shannon McNeair (WA)
Myles McKenzie (QLD)
Taylor-Jai McAlister (NSW)
Dale Rowland (QLD)
Jodi Jones (Tas)

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.