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Mental Health & COVID 19

In May & June this year I embarked on another school road trip in the Kimberley region. This trip was kindly supported by the Shire of Broome. After a rocky start and delays due to COVID, I finally managed to make my way up to Broome, Beagle Bay, Lombadina and down to Bidyadanga. Beagle Bay remains a closed community and I am so grateful the community granted us special access to visit Sacred Heart School. Angela and I were fortunate enough to be part of the First Communion celebrations at the famous pearl shell lined church at Beagle Bay. We were also invited to the Reconciliation festivities at Christ The King School Lombadina.

The purpose of this road trip was to deliver mental health education to regions affected by COVID. In remote areas the isolation is felt ten fold. I also launched our new program - the 5 day 'In My Head' workshops. I have developed a workbook for the students that we use in class during the workshops. Each lesson is a combination of mental health education and photography. We use photography principles to teach mental health in a way that is fun and engaging. The best part is seeing the students complete their workbooks and then putting it all together while having fun taking and printing their photos. The road trip was a huge success with all 4 schools wanting the UP to return in 2022! 

The Australia Bureau of Statistics revealed that deaths in Australia decreased in 2020 and that suicides did not increase. This is an excerpt from a recent media release by the Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt on deaths during COVID:

'It is also reassuring to see that Australia did not record an increase in suicide deaths as predicted by published modelling. The official statistics have now confirmed the number of suicide deaths in 2020 was 3,139, 5.4% lower than the number of suicide deaths in 2019 (3,318). This is an age-standardised rate of 12.1 deaths per 100,000 people, a 6.2% decrease from 2019 (12.9) and the lowest national figure since 2016 overall, and the lowest since 2013 for females.

However, sadly, 223 Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islanders lost their lives to suicide, a 3.7% increase from 215 in 2019. This is an age-standardised rate of 27.1, more than twice that of the non-Indigenous population. In addition, while most age groups saw a slight decrease, the suicide rate among 15-24 year old’s remained relatively steady (14.2 per 100,000 population in 2020, compared to 14.1 per 100,000 in 2019).

Every suicide death is a national tragedy and has a devastating impact on families, friends and communities and the Morrison Government remains committed to achieving zero suicides in this country. While the data released today is generally a small but encouraging step, continuing the immense effort to save lives and protect lives – particularly among our First Nations communities and younger Australians – is more important than ever. '

What was reported still remains as it has been for a long time - Indigenous suicide rates are twice that of the non-Indigenous population. When visiting the Kimberley this year, there were at least 4 suicides in the 6 weeks I was there. It is a well known fact in the Kimberley that over 90% of those who take their own life are not known to mental health services. There is much work to be done. The COVID pandemic has also been dubbed the 'greatest mental health pandemic of all time'. I don't know what next year's statistics will show, but I have no doubt that suicide rates will rise in 2021. Did you know that the highest rates of suicide are among elderly men in Australia? Loneliness, lack of worth and feeling a burden to others are the reasons why people take their own life according to suicide theories. When I have asked young people why they attempted suicide the answer is mostly 'I didn't want to die, I just wanted the pain to end, I don't want this life, I want something different'. I do not know what the answer is but I am on a quest to find out. I just know that something different to what we have always done needs to be implemented, especially in remote communities. I am currently researching an Indigenous community in Queensland that introduced community led initiatives to drive down their suicide rates and the work of Indigenous psychologist Dr Tracey Westerman. It is a collaborative effort and it's the only way to move forward to make an impact in suicide prevention using evidence based approaches.

With gratitude,