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Australia’s first Indigenous suicide prevention hotline is now offering life-saving support and care for Western Australians in crisis.
Sarah Collard

28 Dec 2020 - 1:42 PM  UPDATED 28 Dec 2020 - 1:42 PM

A culturally-appropriate suicide prevention program offering advice and support for Indigenous Australians in WA has launched. Managed by Perth-based Sparton First, an Indigenous-run wellbeing and health service, a hotline will be staffed seven days a week. 

Trained responders will be available for people needing help on a near 24/7 basis. Calls on weekdays will be taken from 6am to 10pm; while calls after hours will be forwarded to on-call respondents to offer support and advice.

The hotline, which went live on Christmas Day, offers critical support at a time when many people struggle to access help.

Spartan First's CEO Des Headland said that the festive period is when support services can be stretched, and resources are challenging to access.

"The opportunity came up to deliver a crisis and suicide prevention hotline over the Christmas period, and we've been working with the federal government to get a ten-week pilot program up and running," Mr Hedland told NITV News. 

He said trained psychologists, counsellors and Aboriginal first responders are offering crisis support for people in need.

"We made sure we got the right people involved to be able to deliver this crisis line… We really need to make sure we can give culturally appropriate care for mob - especially young people in Kimberley, Broome, Pilbara and those more remote areas, so we are trying to get the word out.

"Majority are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander responders. Callers know they are talking to someone that understands our background, where we are from and connect with family and community through the crisis line."

While the program has been granted three months worth of funding, the Wadjuk, Noongar and Yuin man said he hopes the program will continue to get funding beyond March 2021.

"That is our grand plan to deliver a great service with this pilot and create that opportunity; we want to be able to deliver this on an ongoing basis," said Mr Hedland.

Megan Krakouer, Director of the National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery Project, is working with Spartan First to help set up and support the crisis hotline.

The Noongar woman said the work is vital, as suicide and self-harm are at a crisis point. 

"It's incredibly important, it's critical. Lives are being lost. In Perth alone, we've had a suicide recently - two - within the last 15 days in Noongar country," Ms Krakouer told NITV News. 

'We had a young boy that took his life on Christmas Day. It's happening all across the nation."

She said both helplines and face to face intervention are critical in saving lives. 

"There has to be outreach attached to the crisis line - taking calls is amazing, but it needs to be backed up with the outreach in peoples homes and 24/7 support," said Ms Krakouer.

She said helpline would be especially essential during the pilot program - with the summer months being high risk for many.

"This is an elevated risk period over summer. We've got something to work with now. This will give them someone to turn to if they need help."

Suicide prevention responder and researcher Gerry Georgatos supported the establishment of the crisis line and is assisting with the training of the helpline. He said the call centre is already receiving calls for assistance. 

"We've already been receiving calls since it began just a few days ago... So we are already receiving calls and word is getting around and we are expecting many more calls," said Mr Georgatos.

"12 months statewide is what we need, bolstered with other support capacities - and then, go national. We can go a long way into reducing the death toll." 

Indigenous peoples in Western Australia can call the hotline on 1800 370 747.

Readers seeking support can contact Lifeline crisis support on 13 11 14, visit lifeline.org.au or find an Aboriginal Medical Service here. Resources for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders can be found at Headspace: Yarn Safe.

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