About The Manual
A LETTER FROM PROFESSOR PAT DUDGEON
The Manual is a collection of practical resources and tools that people, both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous, can use to make a real difference in promoting positive mental health and social emotional wellbeing, and preventing suicide in our communities.
It responds to a need that many people have expressed: for simple guidance focused on positive actions that can be taken in a crisis or to address an ongoing issue.
There is excellent foundational work that addresses the principles of suicide prevention for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project (ATSISPEP) report sets the standard for good practice in Australia. It draws in turn from ground-breaking Australian and international studies that demonstrate the connection between community empowerment, cultural continuity and the social and emotional wellbeing of Indigenous people.
The Gayaa Dhuwi Declaration, a statement about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership in mental health, was adapted from the international Wharerata Declaration and is now at the centre of Australia’s policy response to Indigenous people’s higher rates of psychological distress and suicide – including through the Fifth National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan.
These principles are critically important, and the Manual translates them into accessible guidance that can be used in all sorts of situations: by someone concerned about a family member, a social worker whose client is talking of self-harming, or a Primary Health Network that needs to fund culturally safe services in a community.
We hope that one day the history, philosophy and principles of Indigenous suicide prevention is part of accepted good practice towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, ensuring that governance, co-design and self-determination are valued part of relationships. Until then, many people – both Indigenous and non-Indigenous – urgently need actions and approaches with potential to save lives right now.
The Manual is organised in three sections:
- For individuals, families, Elders and community members
- For clinicians and other front-line workers, both Indigenous and mainstream
- For Primary Health Networks and other service and commissioning organisations.
Each section includes downloadable resources, checklists, online decision tools and best practice case studies that support users to respond positively and proportionately in whatever situation they face.
The Manual is designed to be used as flexibly as possible. It is optimised for use on mobile phones, as this is what many people use in their lives and work in communities. It also includes lots of downloadable resources, recognising that some communities lack mobile phone reception and people may wish to print or store key documents for later use.
These materials have been carefully selected in partnership with Indigenous communities to cover an extensive range of circumstances for many different audiences. Everything that has been included (with a handful of exceptions, clearly labelled) was originally co-designed and developed with Indigenous people for Indigenous people. The resources have all been reviewed for currency and relevance by Indigenous experts and supporters. We thank everyone who has reviewed these resources and helped us refine the work in progress.
Because the Manual is an online toolkit, it can live and grow as new resources become available. We look forward to hearing how people have used the Manual, and their suggestions for improving it.
Professor Pat Dudgeon
Director | Centre of Best Practice in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention
School of Indigenous Studies
University of Western Australia
Developing the Manual - the Co-design Approach
The Manual aims to be a definitive collection of suicide prevention resources for use by and with Indigenous people and communities.
To ensure these resources are as valuable as possible for their intended audiences, the CBPATSISP presented a series of webinar workshops in mid-2020 to discuss the structure and content of the Manual. More than 70 people generously contributed insights.
The CBPATSISP has continued to seek advice from these people, and others in the community and service provider and funding organisations, as the work has developed.
A number of high-level themes emerged through this process, that have guided the selection of resources included in the Manual and how they are presented. These themes are grouped below.
The Manual is a living resource and the co-design process will continue through further revisions, additions and improvements. The CBPATSISP welcomes all comments and suggestions to keep the resource collection relevant and useful.
Manual Part 1: Individuals, families, Elders, communities
- Many Indigenous people use mobiles rather than computers. The Manual needs to be optimised for mobile technology but not use too much mobile data.
- People often seek support from friends via social media or text. The Manual needs to recognise and embrace this reality.
- Resources should emphasise strength in culture and healthy, positive living.
- There needs to be an emphasis on what’s effective immediately when someone is experiencing severe distress or suicidal crisis.
- Many existing resources, including some developed for and by Indigenous people, focus on deficits and frame distress (and some coping strategies) as a problem; strengths-based resources should focus instead on achievement and capacity – “ways people have made it so far”.
- The most important thing when supporting someone in distress is to “hear people’s story. It’s about connecting in that moment.”
- It’s important to ensure that resources for individuals give people a clear pathway to seeking further support, including local services wherever possible.
Manual Part 2: Clinicians, front-line services
- The Manual should give professionals and other front-line workers clear guidance about what language to use and how to speak respectfully and compassionately with Indigenous people.
- The Manual should include guidance about Indigenous cultural factors such as kinship structures which may have implications for service delivery.
- For clinicians and other workforces, services that join up clearly and coherently are the main determinant in being able to respond successfully to a client’s issue.
- Mainstream staff need help in transitioning from recognising cultural issues in principle to understanding how to act in practice.
- The Manual could support reflective practice, and professional capacity-building, by presenting questions that help people think about their responses to Indigenous people and culture.
- The Manual should emphasise strengths-based professional responses, asking, “What helps to keep you strong?”
Manual Part 3: Culturally responsive service commissioning
- Principles of engagement with Indigenous communities have been developed and published (eg in the Indigenous Governance Framework) but are still not widely understood. The Manual has a role in promoting them.
- The inclusion of Indigenous people in governance structures of PHNs results in better commissioning and improved relationships with state authorities; the Manual should emphasise this.
- Reconciliation Action Plans (RAPs) are only valuable if they are backed by a sincere commitment to improved practices and devolved power to Indigenous people and communities.
- It is important to ensure the Manual promotes cultural capacity in mainstream services.
- Case studies of how PHNs are actually partnering and commissioning with Indigenous community organisations, and how they have overcome barriers and challenges, are highly valued.
The graphics in the Manual of Resources in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention were created by Riki Salam.
Born in Cairns on Yidinji Land, Riki has connections to Moa Island in the Torres Straits and Kuku Yalanji People in Far North Queensland on his father and grandfather’s side. He also has ties to Ngai Tahu in the South Island of New Zealand, on his mother’s side.
Riki first developed the graphic elements in ink on paper, creating a series of icons that represent individuals, families, communities, workforces and Primary Health Networks, complemented by motifs and linear elements representing connection, empowerment and wellbeing. He then used this original artwork to generate the digital files used in the Manual website.
Riki is the Principal and Creative Director of WeAre27 Creative based in Brisbane.
These motifs were designed to represent the intention and purpose of the Manual: to empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-indigenous peoples and promote wellbeing through focus on strengths and positive connections with community, culture and Country.