A traditional landowner from the Northern Territory, who single-handedly reduced the rate of suicide in her community from the worst in the world to zero, has spoken at the launch of an Indigenous suicide prevention program.
Gayili Yunupingu, a member of the Gunyangara community at Galupa in Nhulunbuy, spoke at the launch of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LifeForce Suicide Prevention Program, which aims to address suicide intervention in a culturally sensitive way.
“My community had the highest rate of suicides, every week, every month, every year … so one day me and my brothers, my sisters said, ‘enough is enough’,” she said eight years ago.
Since then, Gayili Yunupingu has been voluntarily on call, 24 hours a day, responding to calls for help from people considering taking their own lives and their loved ones.
For the past two years, not a single death by suicide has been recorded in the remote community.
Her sister-in-law, Sharon Yunupingu, said people in the community knew Gayili Yunupingu was the person to call at the first sign of trouble.
“If there’s a problem and people become concerned about somebody, they’ll give her a call,” she said.
“Some of her sisters work on the night patrol so they might see something. Gayili then makes her way to where the person is and deals with them.”
Sharon Yunupingu said the key to her sister-in-law’s success is the “care factor”.
“People are feeling that there’s someone out there to help them,” she said.
With Indigenous suicide rates double that of the rest of the population, the new program was launched by Wesley Mission to try to reduce the number of people taking their own lives.
An average of 5.2 per cent of Indigenous deaths annually from 2009 to 2013 were from suicide, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Wesley Mission chief executive Keith Garner said education about suicide needs to be delivered in a culturally sensitive way.
“It’s not from above down. It has to be from beneath up,” Dr Garner said.
“It has to be in the community that people are able to shape the particular networks they belong to — that works well in an Indigenous community.”
He said the major difference between this program and other suicide prevention training programs is the method of delivery.
“Instead of a trainer facilitator standing in front of a room actually saying, ‘this is what you should do’, it’s really much more of a ‘yarning circle’ where people together sit down and share their experiences and in a much longer way are allowed to tell those stories, feel the pain and know what it is to share together and share the experiences of their community,” he said.
By Jayne Margetts
Gayili is a senior Yolngu custodian of the Gumatj clan of North Eastern Arnhem Land and internationally renowned artist.
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