Finding Answers to Suicide Within Aboriginal Communities: The Yarrabah Story
Yarrabah is a small community in far North Queensland Australia. Like many Aboriginal communities in Australia and America, the people of Yarrabah experienced an epidemic of suicide in the 1980s. A sudden end to the epidemic in the late 1990s has been attributed by some to the success of a suicide prevention program called the Yarrabah Family Life Promotion Program. The apparent success of this program may tempt health workers and policy makers to study the features of this program and attempt to replicate it in other Aboriginal communities. The range of suicide prevention strategies employed – including suicide prevention training for community members, a 24-hour Crisis Centre / Safe House, a telephone crisis line, one-on-one counselling, workshops on family life development and networking among community organizations Ð are relatively portable and seem relevant to a wide range of settings; why not just package them up into a manualised program and disseminate it as widely as possible? This approach to dissemination of health programs often fails because it does not recognize the fundamental importance of the community development process in enabling a community to develop, implement and maintain such programs. In their comprehensive study of the historical, cultural and symbolic context of suisuicide among indigenous communities in North Queensland, Ernest Hunter, Joseph Reser, Mercy Baird and Paul Reser provide a detailed account of how one Aboriginal community searched deep within itself to find its own answers, and they explain how this process is absolutely critical to the development of effective solutions. The Yarrabah story has important lessons to contribute to our understanding of the process of community engagement and empowerment around the problem of suicide.