Strengthening Our Spirits - National Suicide Prevention Trial for Aboriginal people in the Greater Darwin region
When the National Suicide Prevention Trial was announced in 2016, the Greater Darwin region was chosen as one of two Indigenous-only sites (along with the Kimberley in WA) from a total of 12 regions. Approximately half of suicide-related deaths in the Northern Territory occur within the Darwin region. Young people, males, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are particularly overrepresented in those figures.
The focus of the national trial was to adopt the “systems-based approach”, in which a suite of evidence-based strategies are integrated to amplify their effects. It is estimated that the collective implementation of all seven strategies can result in significant reductions of suicide death and suicide attempts.
In early consultations with Northern Territory PHN, lead agency for the Darwin trial, the community quickly expressed its desire to develop its own distinct culturally-informed version of the systems approach, responding to local needs and opportunities. Through community questionnaires, interviews, and focus groups, NT PHN engaged the community’s knowledge of suicide prevention, the services currently available, and the areas of need. As a result, an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander advisory group (The Telling Group) was established, comprising local people with lived experience of suicide, Elders, young people, people employed within suicide prevention, mental health and youth services.
The Telling Group analysed and visualised the key themes that emerged, resulting in the Strengthening Our Spirits model – painted by local Aboriginal artist Tony Duwun Lee – which depicts the four elements of fire, land, air and water, and how self-harm and suicide creates an imbalance in this perfect system which has provided Indigenous people with everything needed to survive and thrive for more than 60,000 years.
The model focuses on healing, building resilience, and connection, and serves as a foundation for understanding where and how to intervene with suicide prevention activities. Trial coordinators say the visual representation allows teachers, and others who work in the community, to relate more readily to their role in “life promotion” than a written protocol would do.
Strengthening Our Spirits is highly aligned to the principles of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project (ATSISPEP), emphasising culture, lived experience, community leadership and self-determination. It also captures the diversity of Darwin’s Aboriginal people – offering cultural safety to people from traditional backgrounds as well as urban people who have adopted a modern lifestyle, and responds to transient people, members of the Stolen Generations and a growing number of young people in the Greater Darwin region.
NT PHN believes the original trial time-frame – of three years including commissioning and evaluation – has not been sufficient to undertake the robust process required in development of an evidence-based model inclusive of cultural needs and has sought an extension to enable greater opportunity to demonstrate outcomes.
In the commissioning of these activities in the context of the trial, NT PHN has observed a need for community development and sector development to skill up local suppliers in delivering these services on behalf of government agencies – for example helping them to partner with others and developing their ability to evaluate and report on their work. They have identified necessary supports and development opportunities for Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs) and other community providers to engage in commissioning processes.
NT PHN believes Strengthening Our Spirits is a robust framing of suicide prevention for Indigenous people that will persist beyond the trial which offers insights for the broader NT as well as other regions of Australia.
A range of activities were commissioned under each of the seven components of the Strengthening Our Spirits model as part of Darwin National Suicide Prevention Trial (as outlined in Table 1)
Strengthening Our Spirit Component and Activity
Number of Activities
Component 1 – Creating Community Wellbeing Programs
AIMhi-Y Smartphone App
Component 2 – Facilitate Connection to Culture, Language, Land and Lore
Cultural Healing and Wellness Youth Camp
Indigenous Young Fathers Capacity Building Project
Darwin Indigenous Men’s Service (DIMS)
Young Fathers Program & Youth Camps
YMCA & Larrakia Nation
Component 3 – Engaging Cultural Knowledge and Lived Experience
Cultural Resonance – Cross Cultural Mental Health & Alcohol and Other Drugs Training
TEMHS & IvolveGen
Youth SEWB Program (12-25 years)
Component 4 – Deliver Community-led Initiatives
Positive Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Social Media Campaign
Component 5 – Embedding Trauma Informed Care
Trauma Informed Care Workshops
Component 6 – Training in Early Intervention and Awareness
Early Intervention and awareness program to students and their families
headspace in Schools
Deliver the YouMe~WhichWay program
Youturn Limited / United Synergies
Workshops on the impact of colonisation on social and emotional wellbeing
headspace in Schools
Develop and deliver LGBTQI and suicide prevention awareness training for youth
YMCA & Larrakia Nation
Provide activities and support to build resilience and mental wellness in young Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander people aged 12-25 years
YMCA & Larrakia Nation
Component 7 – Facilitate Innovation, Collaboration and Service Integration
Suicide Prevention Trial Coordinator
Community Wellbeing and Healing Programs
Mission Australia & Larrakia Nation
Some more detailed information on a range of the commissioned activities from across the Strengthening Our Spirits strategies is outlined below:
- headspace in schools development of mental wellbeing resources designed to help teachers identify struggling adolescents to have prompt conversations within families. In the first phase, local producers Skinnyfish Music were commissioned to work with students to develop a music video about young people’s mental health. The second phase sees the development of a Facilitators Guide containing a comprehensive suite of workshops and activities to be used for young people that will support the video – guided by a Darwin-based Aboriginal Reference Group.
- Larrakia Nation’s Culture and Family Centre established free dance and other cultural activities, engaging young people who are not involved in sports – the dominant community activity. Social and emotional wellbeing themes are woven through the cultural programs, which include Elders and other community leaders.
- LivingWorks Australia piloted the Indigenous Networking Suicide Intervention Skills Training (INSIST), a culturally safe intervention training program for preventing suicide among Indigenous people, especially youth.
- Wesley Mission supported the Darwin Region Suicide Prevention Network to redevelop a community information and service finder card including delivering social emotional and well-being workshops to the Darwin Community.
- Menzies developed a positive regional social media campaign, promoting cultural messages and resilience.
- LGBTQI youth suicide prevention training was delivered by Platymoose Solutions Pty Ltd to young people and adults who come into contact with young people through school or other activities.
- An Indigenous Fathers Support Project through Darwin Indigenous Mens Services (DIMS) delivered a serious of group activities that supported Indigenous males to develop personal skills, self-esteem and personal capacity which led to an increased capacity to cope with the life transitions and stresses associated with parenting and fatherhood.
- The Top End School of Flexible Learning, NT Education delivered early intervention and awareness programs to students and their families. The program supported young marginalised aboriginal young people aged 12 – 18 years old, disengaged from social participation and mainstream supports, including education and mental health services.
- Balunu Foundation delivered boys and girls Camps targeting young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from the Darwin region.
- Top End Mental Health and Alcohol and Other Drugs Services (TEMH AOD) engaged a local Aboriginal consultant and trainer (IvolveGen) to develop a cultural-specific mental health and alcohol and other drugs (AOD) training, cultural consultation, and cultural supervision package. This workshop referred to as Cultural Resonance – Cross Cultural Mental Health & Alcohol and Other Drugs Training, is considered a pioneer program addressing power differences between health systems and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The aim is to support clinicians to understand and fit within an Aboriginal framework of Social and Emotional Wellbeing (SEWB) when delivering health care to First Nations peoples.
- AMSANT, the Peak Body for Aboriginal Medical Services in the NT developed and delivered Culturally Responsive Trauma Informed Care Workshops to Health and Community Professionals, namely Child Protection, youth justice and police frontline staff located in the Greater Darwin region. An Trauma and Healing Working Group was established, and a series of engagements were held to ensure that the training package was responsive to the local community need and cultural context.
- Youturn Limited / United Synergies –delivered youme~whichway program with community consultation to the people of Darwin. The project originally developed in QLD was commissioned by other PHNs in WA and SA and is now being delivered in Darwin to selected individuals from the Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander community. The program launches its delivery mode through a train-the-trainer concept and is a full day program providing information, sharing knowledge and provides the opportunity for participants to explore suicide and self-harm and its impacts on individuals, families, and communities.
- Danila Dilba, an Aboriginal community-controlled organisation providing culturally appropriate, comprehensive primary health care and community services to the community in the Greater Darwin Region delivered two activities including a Youth Social Emotional Wellbeing Program to support the Trial in Darwin through engagement, insights, collaborations, transition planning and referral pathways.
- YMCA delivered a young fathers’ programs and youth camps focused on resilience building through cultural activities which promote the youth’s connection to land and culture with Larrakia nation providing mentorship and cultural connection to men aged 12-25.
- Mission Australia in partnership with Larrakia Nation delivered Community Wellbeing and Healing Programs by providing 1:1 case management and wellbeing and healing plans alongside Larrakia who ran group-based activities to address issues such as grief, trauma, and loss.
For further information of the Darwin National Suicide Prevention Trial visit: https://www.ntphn.org.au/strengthening-our-spirits