A training program to build Indigenous Australians’ skills in preventing suicides has brought national acclaim for a University of Queensland researcher.
Associate Professor Maree Toombs said the I-ASIST program was developed in partnership with LivingWorks Australia over four years of consultation and collaboration.
Today, on World Suicide Prevention Day, Governor-General David Hurley presented Dr Toombs with Suicide Prevention Australia’s LIFE Impact Award.
Dr Toombs, a Euralie and Kooma woman, is the UQ Faculty of Medicine’s Associate Dean of Indigenous Engagement.
"I-ASIST trains friends, family and outreach services to identify people early who are at risk of suicide, and to use their skills to address the situation immediately," she said.
"It provides employment for Indigenous trainers, either through organisations or as sole traders, to deliver suicide first-aid skills to their local communities.
"It develops capacity and sustainability for evidence-based training.
"I thank community members, my UQ team and LivingWorks Australia for their heartfelt input into creating this evidence-based program.
"Now we need people who are embedded and trusted in their communities to be trained deliver this program, especially in Indigenous communities.
"I’m proud that I-ASIST contributes to fulfilling key recommendations for building capacity in our Indigenous communities, as outlined in the recent Productivity Commission Report, the Final Advice to the Prime Minister by Suicide Prevention Advisor Christine Morgan, and the Victorian Royal Commission into Mental Health Report."
Suicide Prevention Australia chief executive Nieves Murray said the LIFE Impact Award recognised scalable, strategically developed initiatives to prevent suicidal behaviours.
"We are delighted to present this award to Dr Toombs for her work with Indigenous communities, which has resulted in peer-reviewed publications on the impact of her activities," Ms Murray said.
LivingWorks Australia chief executive Shayne Connell said he and Dr Toombs established their partnership to co-design I-ASIST in 2017.
"Maree’s leadership covered everything from early community consultation and yarning to asking community for their priorities, developing field trials, evaluation, and the social enterprise model of I-ASIST," Mr Connell said.
"When Indigenous communities across Queensland overwhelmingly prioritised suicide prevention, Maree investigated how to build capacity to intervene when people were thinking of suicide.
"In the first wave of 250 people trained in I-ASIST, more than 140 suicide interventions were made in communities, undoubtedly saving lives.
"Since then, more than 1800 Indigenous people across Queensland and more than 4000 Australia-wide have completed the two-day program.
"Published data shows hundreds of suicide intervention conversations since have been held by those trained.
"This award is testament to Maree’s hard work in leading this amazing program and we look forward to Government support to share I-ASIST with Indigenous communities across Australia."
Dr Toombs said it was important to fulfil parts of the Productivity Report and other recommendations, and to deliver on the vision of an "at-scale" social enterprise model for suicide intervention.
"I-ASIST provides necessary social benefits and outcomes, while generating income for Indigenous trainers who deliver suicide intervention skills training in their communities," she said.
"The program also provides ownership and sustainability for Indigenous trainers beyond our research project."
Ken Wyatt, the Minister for Indigenous Australians, will officially launch I-ASIST in November.
The National Health and Medical Research Council funded the research.