Indigenous suicide intervention program wins national award

10 Sep 2021

A University of Queensland researcher behind the world's first suicide intervention training program for Indigenous Australians, Associate Professor Maree Toombs, has been recognised with a LiFE Impact Award.

His Excellency Governor-General the Honourable David Hurley AC DSC presented the Suicide Prevention Australia (SPA) award to Dr Toombs, a proud Euralie and Kooma woman and Associate Dean of Indigenous Engagement at UQ’s Faculty of Medicine.

Dr Toombs said the I-ASIST program, Indigenous Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training, was developed with LivingWorks Australia (LWA) for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

“I-ASIST employs Indigenous trainers, either through organisations or as sole traders, to deliver suicide first aid skills to their local communities and provide capacity and sustainability for evidence-based training,” Dr Toombs said.

“It’s been a four-year journey of consultations and co-design, and I thank community members, my UQ team and LWA for their heartfelt input into creating this program.

“We need people who are embedded and trusted within their communities to be trained in delivering this program, especially in Indigenous communities.

“I-ASIST trains friends, family and other outreach services to identify people early who are at risk of suicide and use their skills to address the situation immediately. “I’m proud that I-ASIST contributes to fulfilling recommendations from the Productivity Commission’s report for building capacity in our Indigenous communities,” Dr Toombs said.

SPA CEO Nieves Murry said the Impact Award recognised an individual or organisation that demonstrated impact in the prevention of suicidal behaviours which used strategic and scalable initiatives.

“We are delighted to present this award to Dr Toombs for her work with Indigenous communities,” Ms Murry said.

Dr Toombs investigated how to build capacity to intervene when people were thinking of suicide when Indigenous communities across Queensland overwhelmingly identified the issue.

“Maree’s leadership on this program 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,” LWA CEO Shayne Connell said.

“In the first wave of 250 people trained in I-ASIST, more than 140 suicide interventions were made in communities, undoubtingly saving lives.

“Since then, more than 1800 Indigenous people across Queensland and more than 4000 across Australia have completed the two-day program with published data showing that hundreds of suicide intervention conversations have taken place.

“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.”

I-ASIST will be officially launched by The Hon Ken Wyatt, Minister for Indigenous Australians, in November 2021, and was funded by the NHMRC.