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Indigenous suicide prevention

High rates of infant mortality, diabetes and cancer are just some of the health issues contributing to the appalling health statistics for Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people. But Raelene Ward is committed to reversing these statistics in her role as an Indigenous Nurse Research Fellow at USQ.

Raylene Ward

Mrs Raelene Ward

Raelene Ward

Born in Cunnamulla, Raelene commenced her career as an enrolled nurse at Goondiwindi Hospital, before completing her registered nurse training at the Australian Catholic University and USQ. She coordinated a suicide prevention project at USQ from 2007-2009, before accepting a full-time research position at the University in 2010.

“I had been in community control and nursing for a long time and you feel there comes a time in your life where you can’t contribute anymore and research is another direction that I have chosen to help my people and communities.”

As part of the three-year project, Raelene worked with four Indigenous communities across Queensland in Dalby, Kowanyama, Hope Vale and Yarrabah.

“Suicide is an immense problem for our people and their communities and the risk of suicide and self-harm among Indigenous communities is complicated and compounded by complex trans-generational transmissions of violence, trauma, grief, de-colonisation, racism and loss.

“The effects of these are known to greatly contribute to sociocultural and economic problems and conditions, which in turn place Indigenous individuals at greater risk of suicide and self-harm.

“In the late 1990’s Yarrabah had a high number of suicides and the community cried out for help and change and now have initiatives in place that are successful in addressing suicide and community issues.”

The aim of the suicide prevention project was to roll-out the ‘Family Well-Being Empowerment Program’, establish ‘men’s groups’ and use health interactive technology as a way of bringing people together.

“Across these initiatives we encouraged men to come together, share experiences and stories with other Indigenous communities, as a way of building inner strength and resilience.”

Raelene was awarded Suicide Prevention Australia’s 2009 ‘LIFE Award’ for the Indigenous category in recognition of her outstanding contribution to suicide prevention in Australia.

This work encouraged Raelene to complete a Masters in Health, investigating accessibility and availability of services in one Aboriginal community. The results were not surprising.

“The services were available but access was difficult - transport was a huge issue along with financially being able to access services. Racism and discrimination is experienced regularly by the community when accessing services at all levels within the community.”

Ralene now aims to complete a PhD focusing on ‘What suicide means to Aboriginal communities across South West Queensland’.

“Working on the suicide prevention project gave me a deeper understanding of the historical perspective of communities – how each community is different in terms of their history and how intergenerational experience impacts on people and communities”.

Raelene also hopes to encourage more Aboriginal people to pursue higher education and research.

“There are not a lot of Indigenous people in positions like mine but the more we see like another black face it encourages our people and others to come along for the journey.”