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Fitzroy Crossing youth suicide sparks renewed call for urgent action in the Kimberley

Giovanni TorreBroome Advertiser
Patrick Green.
Camera IconPatrick Green. Credit: Giovanni Torre

A suicide in Fitzroy Crossing has sparked renewed calls for urgent action to address mental health needs among young people in the Kimberley.

The recent death came two weeks after an attempted suicide by another young person in the town caused a power outage as the temperature climbed to 39 degrees on October 10.

Local businessman Patrick Green said the blackout occurred after a young boy who had repeatedly sought medical attention attempted to take his own life.

“There are people seeking help but don’t know what to say,” he said.

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“The other day there was a youngster that tried to take his own life… I want to have an inquiry, how many times that youngster went to the hospital and what was the hospital’s response? Why did they send him away?

“I believe the hospital may have perceived him as a nuisance because he did not know what to say… This person needed help and nobody could see what sort of help.”

Data published by the Federal Government in 2018 showed between 2012 and 2016 the suicide rate in the Kimberley was the highest in the world.

In 2019 WA coroner Ros Fogliani brought down the findings of an inquest investigating 13 deaths of young people which occurred in the Kimberley in fewer than four years, including five children aged between 10 and 13.

Ms Fogliani found 12 of the deaths were by suicide, while she made an open finding in one of the cases.

She said the deaths had been shaped by “the crushing effects of intergenerational trauma” and made a wide suite of recommendations, including better services for people with foetal alcohol spectrum disorder, appointment of special adviser for Aboriginal children and young persons, and a state-wide Aboriginal cultural policy.

Earlier this year, Broome-based Liberal Member for Mining and Pastoral Neil Thomson described the situation as “a slow-motion genocide of a generation of children and young people”.

This week Mr Green asked what had become of those recommendations and others made by a different coronial report.

“What commitment is there by government to inform the service deliveries of these recommendations?” he said.

“Are we the forgotten people? Are we doing to continue to be the forgotten people?

“There were not a small amount of recommendations; how many have been implemented?”

He suggested that the federal government needed to examine what it could do to address the problem.

WA Mental Health Commission’s operations acting deputy commissioner Ann Marie Cunniffe said Fitzroy Crossing Hospital provided 24/7 access to mental health support through drug and alcohol teams, psychiatrists and telehealth services.

“Nurses and doctors at Fitzroy Crossing Hospital also work with Aboriginal liaison officers to provide cultural support and ensure care is culturally appropriate,” she said.

Ms Cunniffe said patients who presented to the emergency department in mental health distress were assessed by mental health professionals who assisted access to follow-up care where required.

“In certain circumstances, they may also be hospitalised,” she said.

“In the event a patient repeatedly represents, their tailored management plan will be revisited in consultation with the patient and their support person to minimise the risk of harm.”

Ms Cunniffe said the Kimberley Aboriginal Youth Wellbeing Steering Committee has been established to support Aboriginal community-led solutions to improve Aboriginal youth wellbeing.

The Committee facilitates implementation of the 86 recommendations identified in the State Coroner’s 2019 Inquest, among other measures.

Some $9.8 million has been earmarked by the WA Government to develop culturally appropriate prevention plans in the regions.

Ms Cunniffe said Aboriginal-led solutions and cultural understanding and respect were guiding principles of the approach.

“The Commission funds regional Community Liaison Officers across the State, including the Kimberley,” she said.

“These positions are employed by Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations as they have the strongest understanding of their region, knowledge of appropriate cultural considerations and local issues.”

About $30m is also being spent on public mental health facilities and staff in the Kimberley.

This story originally appeared in the National Indigenous Times.

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