National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Strategy

A community development approach

Page last updated: 2013

Communities can include significant diversity. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, community is closely related to the idea of culture. There are many shared elements of culture, just as there is also cultural and sometimes linguistic diversity between communities and within communities identifying as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. Confidence in recognition based on cultural identity is a source of strength. Cultural change and discontinuity are also important influences. For example, many people may feel cut off or disconnected from their cultural heritage or community. Many young people may be in conflict with parents and elders and see theirs as the culture of a "new generation". Culture may mean something different as resource or source of identity for youth in a large city compared with young people in a remote community.

These differences may have different implications for the needs of youth for support and for engagement by services or recognition by elders. Global influences on culture, including new electronic technologies and images are part of the experience and styles of communication of young people. They may shape particular areas of vulnerability, while also representing important opportunities for engagement of the young. The place of sports, the arts, including music, painting and dance in resilience promotion and in encouragement of healthy cultural affirmation of identity are relevant here. These initiatives may occur in conjunction with active development of resilience-building interventions and services to promote mental health and social-emotional wellbeing.

The idea of community is also associated with recognition of leadership and authority based on authentic relationships. Leadership is in part about representation in governance and organisation, and Aboriginal leadership is important in developing partnerships in prevention. However, leadership is also about mobilising participation, engagement, action and ideas within communities, and may come from outside of organisations that are often seen as representing the community.

A further potentially powerful perspective within communities is provided by those families and individuals who have been affected by suicide either directly or indirectly. There are many instances of action networks that have been important catalysts for change to services and policies or who have worked effectively as partners of community services and non-government organisations to strengthen prevention, postvention and life promotion responses. Community and partnership should not be seen solely from the perspective of governments or services. These are some of the reasons why it is important to define what "community" means for the purpose of developing prevention strategies.Top of page

The Community Life Framework – Draft for Consultation (2005) sets out a number of principles for planning and decision making at the community level to adopt programs and initiatives that achieve the intended outcomes of reductions in suicide and self-harm in communities in which these occur at high rates. Some of these are:

  • A focus on risk and protective factors
    Prevention should focus on the risk and protective factors faced by the target group and community.
  • Comprehensive, multi-level programs
    Prevention should be undertaken across a range of settings – individual, family, school and community, with multiple components delivered within multiple settings.
  • Effective, evidence-based interventions
    An effective intervention achieves its intended effect in the 'real world' (Hawe et al. 1997). Effective interventions are based on available research evidence about their efficacy.
  • Intensive, long-term and developmentally appropriate activities
    Evidence suggests that 'one-stop' prevention efforts are not very effective and that the most successful activities are intensive, developmentally appropriate and maintained over time.
  • Community-focused and relevant programming
    Prevention programming should address the specific nature of the problem in the local community or population group. It should be relevant to the community.
  • Culturally appropriate activities
    Prevention should be culturally appropriate – consistent with the cultural identity, communication styles, protocols and social networks of clients and stakeholders (Thomas 2002).
  • Early intervention
    The higher the level of risk in the population group, the more intensive the prevention effort must be and the earlier it should begin. Transition points – preschool, middle school, entering high school, leaving high school and entering the workforce – are times when major setbacks can occur, and that represent natural opportunities for providing supportive interventions.
  • Multi-dimensional capacity-building efforts
    Interventions need to be multi-dimensional, with capacity-building efforts to support them.
This framework illustrates that action needs to be taken at a number of levels, beginning with mobilisation of community understandings of suicide and the options for action, along with planning and development of a community action plan for adoption of strategies that have been shown to be effective and that represent "good practice" (see figure 7). Finally, there needs to be capacity building, action to develop infrastructure and resources.Top of page

Figure 7: Developing a community plan for suicide prevention

Refer to the following text for a text equivalent of Figure 7: Developing a community plan for suicide prevention

Text version of figure 7

This flow chart identifies the steps involved in developing a community plan for suicide prevention:
  1. Develop a shared understanding of suicide and prevention
  2. Establish community infrastructure to support suicide prevention
    • Knowing your community
    • Building community capacity
    • Achieving community readiness
  3. Develop a community-based suicide prevention plan
    • Identify key priority areas
    • Identify target population
    • Select appropriate strategies
    • Develop an evaluation strategy
    • Develop a package or relevant programs
    • Develop a timeline
  4. Good-practice strategies
    • Framework for choosing good-practice strategies
Steps 1 and 2 may be omitted if there is already an established community infrastructure.

Source: Community LiFE Framework for effective community-based suicide prevention (2005).