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New integrated systems approach to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide prevention announced

New integrated systems approach to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide prevention announced

Two leading organisations will work together on a new approach to preventing suicides among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, combining proven strategies, to create a powerful blueprint for saving lives.

The Centre of Best Practice in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention (CBPATSISP) at The University of Western Australia will collaborate with Black Dog Institute to develop an integrated systems approach to suicide prevention in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Taking the findings of the 2016 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project (ATSISPEP) as the starting point, the collaboration will work with Indigenous community organisations, clinicians, academics, and others to develop a combination of interventions with the potential to reduce Indigenous suicides. Tragically, suicide rates in this population are more than double that of other Australians.

Professor Pat Dudgeon, Director of the CBPATSISP said, “We demonstrated through ATSISPEP that the unacceptably high rate of suicide in our communities is a consequence of colonisation, intergenerational trauma and systemic racism, and we know that effective responses must be based on Indigenous leadership and empowerment.

“Since that time, we have greatly increased our understanding about interventions that help our people find strength in community, culture and Country. This collaboration with Black Dog Institute represents the next stage in that learning, to understand how the existing services and systems in a community can be applied together, with a cultural lens so that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can benefit from an integrated framework.”

Leilani Darwin, Director, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Strategy at Black Dog Institute, said, “Systems approaches, in which multiple proven suicide prevention interventions are applied simultaneously, are well established worldwide, and can significantly reduce suicides. Black Dog Institute recently provided support and guidance to 12 regional sites in the recent National Suicide Prevention Trial, through its LifeSpan integrated suicide prevention model, with several of these including a priority population focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

“This work with the CBPATSISP represents an opportunity to ensure those gains are extended to Indigenous communities in a supportive and culturally responsive way.”

Commenting on the announcement, Tom Brideson, Chief Executive Officer of Gayaa Dhuwi (Proud Spirit) Australia said, “This is a good opportunity to take a broad systems-based approach to continue to build the evidence and to focus on improvements for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples using multiple strategies at the same time.”

An initial meeting later this month between the CBPATSISP, Black Dog Institute and other key organisations including Gayaa Dhuwi (Proud Spirit) Australia and the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO), will discuss the scope for the work, and will be followed by broad consultation. The work will support the Federal Government’s forthcoming National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Strategy.

Julie Robotham –julie.robotham@uwa.edu.au08 6488 6925

(Centre of Best Practice in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention)

Kate Dennis – media@blackdog.org.au / 0418 407 168

(Black Dog Institute)


  • The National Suicide Prevention Trial, which will report soon, was largely based on Black Dog Institute’s LifeSpan systems approach, with Black Dog Institute providing advice and leadership to 12 Primary Health Networks as they implemented tailored suicide prevention strategies for their region.
  • LifeSpan is an integrated systems approach developed by the Black Dog Institute, which unites nine separate suicide prevention strategies that have been shown to reduce suicide deaths and attempts into a community-led response. Black Dog Institute researchers have implemented and tested LifeSpan in four NSW regions, as well as the ACT and a Victorian place-based trial, with findings from the trial expected in mid-2022.
  • An Indigenous-focused trial site from the National Suicide Prevention Trial, in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, used the ATSISPEP values and implementation principles.
  • Based on these experiences, there is now an opportunity to articulate in more detail an integrated systems approach for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, outlining how particular interventions may be combined to prevent Indigenous suicides.
  • This would provide guidance for individual communities to plan, prioritise and assess suicide prevention measures, supported by regional and local co-design and consultation to ensure an appropriate mix of services.
  • This project would be consistent with the objectives of the forthcoming National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Strategy.


According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2019):

  • Suicide accounts for 6% of all deaths among Indigenous people (vs 2% non-Indigenous).
  • Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for Indigenous males (vs 10th non-Indigenous). It is the 7th leading cause of death for Indigenous females (vs 23rd non-Indigenous).
  • One-third of all Indigenous child deaths (ages 5 to 17) are suicides.
  • 23% of all suicide deaths in Australian children (ages 5 to 17) are Indigenous children.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples embrace a holistic concept of mental and physical health within a broader context of social and emotional wellbeing (SEWB). This recognises the interconnectedness of physical and mental health with spiritual and cultural factors and connection to Country, community, and traditions.

The lasting impacts of colonisation have resulted in intergenerational trauma and social and economic disadvantage at individual, family, and community levels. This can result in multiple stressors such as unresolved grief and loss, trauma and abuse, domestic violence, removal from family, substance misuse, family breakdown, cultural dislocation, racism, and discrimination, which challenge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s mental and physical health and wellbeing.

Trauma, grief, and loss as well as alcohol and substance use are key factors in Indigenous suicide deaths. Healing programs and services to promote social and emotional wellbeing are essential components of a culturally safe Indigenous suicide prevention response.


The CBPATSISP was established to develop and share evidence about effective suicide prevention approaches for Indigenous people and communities.

Building on the foundation of the earlier Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project (ATSISPEP), the CBPATSISP influences Indigenous suicide prevention policy, practice and research by promoting access to evidence and resources and through advocacy.

The work of the CBPATSISP is centred on the rights of Indigenous people and communities to self-determination, and the critical importance of cultural responses to distress alongside clinical approaches.

The CBPATSISP is a Commonwealth Government-funded consortium led by The Poche Centre for Indigenous Health at the School of Indigenous Studies, The University of Western Australia, with partners The Healing Foundation, Telethon Kids Institute, Menzies Institute for Medical Research and Health InfoNet.


Black Dog Institute is a global leader in mental health research and the only Medical Research Institute in Australia to investigate mental health across the lifespan.

Areas of strength include suicide prevention, digital mental health, workplace mental health, new treatments, and prevention in young people. Our unique translational approach allows us to quickly turn our world-class scientific findings into clinical services, educational programs and e-health products that improve the lives of people with mental illness. We join the dots, connecting research answers, expert knowledge and the voices of lived experience to deliver solutions that work across the health care system for patients and practitioners alike.

The Black Dog Institute’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Lived Experience Centre works to elevate the voices of First Nations people and shares their stories to co-design, inform, and deliver culturally safe mental health and suicide prevention initiatives.
This initiative is the first of its kind in Australia and internationally, and is designed to elevate the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ lived experiences to contribute to the development of culturally safe, trauma-informed services, care, and programs.

At a national level, there is widespread recognition of the value Lived Experience holds to inform and improve social and emotional wellbeing and reduce suicide rates. The Lived Experience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is crucial in creating mental health and suicide prevention solutions that work for their culture and people.

This Lived Experience Centre will be the conduit that links networks together to mobilise, amplify and enable the right people to have a seat at the table to deliver culturally focused and safe Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-led suicide prevention and mental wellbeing programs and initiatives.

Download a PDF copy of this media release here.

If you or someone you know needs help or support, you can contact your local Aboriginal Community-Controlled Organisation or

  • Lifeline: 131 114
  • Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800
  • Mensline: 1300 78 99 78
  • Beyondblue 1300 22 46 36
  • Q Life 1800 18 45 27,
  • Open Arms Veterans & Families Counselling 1800 01 10 46
  • The National Indigenous Critical Response Service 1800 80 58 01
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