NO one is doing more for people at risk of suicide than Aboriginal Elder Tjalaminu Mia in Armadale. On World Suicide Prevention Day and RUOK Day, Mental Health Australia is calling on all governments to focus on preventing suicide as an integral part of a national health reform agenda.
“As many as 2,500 Australians take their own lives each year,” Mental Health chief executive Frank Quinland said.
“More people die from suicide than on our roads, and another 60,000 attempt suicide each year.”
These staggering figures are up to six times higher in the Aboriginal community.
Tjalaminu Mia is a Nyoongah who grew up in Viveash until she was taken from her parents and moved to Sister Kate’s children’s home in Queens Park.
She was one of seven children her mother Beryl Keen had taken from her under the government policies of the Stolen Generation and put in Sister Kate’s.
Since that experience, TJ, as she is known, has devoted her life to developing policies around healing generations of Aboriginal people.
“We need to reduce youth suicide because the suffering is so deep and so profound and it grows and it multiplies in hopelessness,” she said.
TJ has identified what she calls “soul sickness” within Aboriginal people, especially youth, which has severely affected her people.
“We have to break the chains of that and we have to reiterate to these young people that you’ve got a choice, you are of value and you mean something to this world,” she said.
She has developed a number of programs which are spreading across Australia to heal.
“My own personal journey has involved a path of healing for myself which has empowered me by healing others,” TJ said.
She is invited to speak about her programs at conferences interstate and overseas.
One of her most powerful projects is the return to country and language idea, which she said grew “the spirit”.
“Aboriginal spirit has been broken by much of the incarceration, whether it be in prison, in children’s homes, or on the streets lost to alcohol and drugs,” she said.
“We need to develop leadership and empowerment through bringing back initiation rites (with a modern take) for country and culture and giving teenagers responsibilities and obligations.”
TJ has worked extensively with other Aboriginal leaders such as Dumbartung Aboriginal Corporation executive director Robert Eggington, who has worked with the Nyoongah community in Perth for 32 years.
Mr Eggington lost his own child to suicide and has provided a lot of support for families who are working through their grief.
He co-ordinates Dumbartung’s initiatives, carries out cross-cultural workshops and delivers lectures.
An elders’ report said all leaders were concerned about death among young people and wanted to map the suicides in one project and one culturally appropriate framework that would help to empower the local community-based support groups.
He said a smorgasbord of community offerings needed to be addressed so they were not of limited use and a crisis line would also be helpful.