Daniel Rockman lost his son, granddaughter, and great granddaughter to suicide in 2019. (ABC Kimberley: Matt Bamford)
Daniel Rockman lost his son, granddaughter, and great granddaughter while the West Australian Government prepared its response to the latest suicide inquiry. Here is what he hopes they will say today.
- Indigenous people are calling for more control of suicide prevention programs
- The WA Coroner made 42 recommendations at the conclusion of an inquest into 13 deaths of young people in the Kimberley
- It’s taken over a year to release the WA Government’s comprehensive response to these recommendations
The Government’s long awaited response to Coroner Ros Fogliani’s extensive findings is expected to be formally announced in Broome this morning, more than a year since the coroner delivered her recommendations.
At least another six suicides have occurred in the region since Ms Fogliani’s findings were handed down.
Mr Rockman, from the remote desert community of Balgo on the WA-NT border, said he wanted to see a greater sense of urgency after numerous inquiries, hearings, and research into the problem.
“All I want them to do is stop promising and start working together as a people of Australia, and to start listening to the young ones,” Mr Rockman said.
“I believe those young ones need to be told that they are the future for the community.”
The Government has been preparing a response since an inquest into 13 deaths of children and young people reached its conclusion last year.
Health Minister Roger Cook said, on the day the inquest findings were handed down, the Government would formally respond in the “coming weeks”.
“These are very complex issues and they will not be solved overnight,” Mr Cook said.
Mental Health Minister Roger Cook said building an effective strategy towards suicide prevention remains a complex issue. (ABC News: James Carmody)
A few days later, Premier Mark McGowan hosed down the prospect of accepting the coroner’s recommendation to impose Kimberley-wide restrictions on takeaway alcohol.
“The coroner made a range of recommendations, some of them I think are more practical than others,” the Premier said at the time.
In May 2019, the Government released a preliminary response promising to work with Aboriginal people to address youth suicide and release a comprehensive response “by the end of the year”.
It was in the second half of 2019 that Mr Rockman lost first his granddaughter, then a great granddaughter, and then his son to suicide.
“My granddaughter was like a bright morning star for my family,” Mr Rockman said.
“There were so many things she wanted to do with her life, but her talents were shattered by her suicide.”
The deaths had a heavy impact on Mr Rockman’s family.
“Without her I’m just nothing. And my son, his life was just shattered,” he said.
“At the same time I lost my son, and there was three sadnesses that I had — for my granddaughter, my great granddaughter, and my son.”
But now Mr Rockman wants his family’s terrible loss to help build a brighter future for young Aboriginal people across the Kimberley.
“What we went through we don’t want others to go through the same thing,” he said.
Mr Rockman said he believed hope lies in suicide prevention, co-designed with Indigenous communities, which was also one of the Coroner’s main recommendations.
“I would say to the Government ‘give the funding to Aboriginal people and let them work, and show they can do better’,” he said.
“I want every mental health mob in the Kimberley to work together with towns and the communities because that’s where the answers are.”
The impact of the losses of several much-loved women in Balgo over the past year cannot be overstated. (ABC Kimberley: Andrew Seabourne)
Families on the front line
The Balgo elder’s views were shared by Liz Cox, who lost her adopted son to suicide in 2015.
The community leader from the tiny community of Wuggubun, near Kununurra, said suicide prevention training needed to include families on the frontline.
“I think what could help is people being told on the ground, like parents and grandparents, about how to look out for suicide,” she said.
“The services are there to provide professional help. But it is us as parents and grandparents … I think we have a big part as well in preventing these kids from doing what they are doing.”
Liz Cox from the Wuggubun community in the East Kimberley lost her son to suicide in 2015. (ABC Kimberley: Claire Moodie)
Mrs Cox said her son was a loving person with many friends, but he suffered trauma in his early childhood before she started looking after him at the age of 3.
“When he started school he was finding it difficult to sit in class, so he was always in trouble,” she said.
“I had to go up just about every day of the week and get him from school and take him home.”
He was diagnosed with ADHD, but Mrs Cox said he also showed symptoms of foetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
“Physically … he was filling out like a normal child of his age but mentally he wasn’t that age,” she said.
Mrs Cox said she believed her son had been “drinking a bit” at the time of his death at the age of 22 but did not show any signs of being suicidal.
She was supportive of the WA Coroner’s recommendation for Kimberley-wide alcohol restrictions.
“If someone has got a mental illness and they are thinking of doing something, under the influence of alcohol or drugs, that gives them enough power to make them that game that they’ll go and do it,” she said.
Aboriginal-led to be successful
For Broome man Alphonse Balacky, the underlying issues of suicide need to be tackled.
The Coroner found that the deaths she investigated were shaped by “the crushing effects of intergenerational trauma” and that the children often experienced dysfunctional home environments which featured alcohol abuse and domestic violence.
Mr Balacky, a reformed domestic violence perpetrator, now facilitates a behaviour change program for Aboriginal men called Change Em Ways.
He also has personal experience of suicide, having lost a nephew and uncle in Broome within the past four months.
Alphonse Balacky has lost a nephew and uncle to suicide in Broome since December 2019. (ABC Kimberley: Claire Moodie)
Lack of self-esteem, he said, was the biggest factor in the high rate of suicide in the Kimberley.
“I think it is our generational trauma, our learnt behaviour that we have contracted,” Mr Balacky said.
“It has been moulded into us.”
Impacts from the history of colonisation with the subsequent loss of culture, language, and country can be easily overlooked, Mr Balacky said.
“You don’t see anything that’s tagged on us that this has happened. But it’s carried in our hearts and it’s carried in our minds,” he said.
“We’ve always felt second.”
Mr Balacky said his experience with Change Em Ways, where participants often self-refer, underlined that suicide prevention programs needed to be Aboriginal-led to be successful.
“Having a mainstream program [they say] … ‘I don’t want to go to that place … it’s run by Kartiya [non-Indigenous] mob’,” Mr Balacky said.
“[They say] ‘I don’t want to sit at a table talking to a Kartiya about my problem, no way. I’d rather talk to you about my problems.
“‘My feeling is easy when I talk to you. I feel like I’m not being judged. I’m not being hassled. I’m not being pushed.'”
If you or anyone you know needs help:
Credit: Source link