Suicide ‘crisis’: Geraldton meeting calls for Aboriginal mental health reforms in wake of Joyce Clarke tragedy
Leaders in Aboriginal health and legal services have warned of a suicide crisis which they say has included two indigenous deaths in the Mid West and Gascoyne in the past six days.
Speaking at a press conference in Geraldton this morning, Geraldton Regional Aboriginal Medical Service board chair Sandy Davies said the two suicides were among seven deaths this year, which included children as young as 12.
“It’s the highest rate of suicide in the State this calendar year,” he said.
Calls for the State Government to make mental health reforms were top of the agenda at the conference, which comes after the death last month of Aboriginal woman Joyce Clarke.
Ms Clarke was shot in the stomach by a police officer just days after she left hospital due to a mental health incident.
Her death is under investigation, with Police Commissioner Chris Dawson promising independent oversight from the Corruption and Crime Commission and the State Coroner.
According to Ms Clarke’s family, she had a history of drug use and spent a large part of her life in prison.
National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery Project director Megan Krakouer said the number of Aboriginals going without access to support services was “beyond a joke”.
“People who don’t know what they’re doing in mental health programs just need to get out of the way,” she said.
“I don’t know what good all these representative bodies are doing if it’s not translating to the ground.”
The conference also called on the Government to ensure police no longer respond to mental health incidents, leaving qualified professionals to do so instead.
Speakers insisted on the repeal of mandatory sentencing laws so an offender’s individual circumstances could be taken into account.
It was also said police should never use a gun on someone who did not have a gun, and that a lifelong approach to State-delivered care needed to be adopted, from birth to old age.
Other speakers included GRAMS chief executive Deb Woods, National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery Project co-ordinator Gerry Georgatos, Aboriginal Legal Service of WA chief executive Dennis Eggington and National Justice Project principal solicitor George Newhouse.
At the time of Ms Clarke’s death, WA Police offered their condolences to her family and have promised a thorough investigation.
Police Commissioner Chris Dawson, who has described the incident as tragic, said eight police officers were present in Petchell Street at the time and witnesses had seen Ms Clarke with a knife before the shooting.
Ms Clarke’s death has fast-tracked the roll-out of body cameras for Mid West and Gascoyne police, who were not scheduled to receive them until 2021.
* If you or someone you know needs support, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.
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