Kicking Goals Prevents Indigenous Suicide

Friday, June 24, 2011

By Jordan Laing

The Broome Saints Football Club is a community AFL team like no other. Success isn't measured by how many goals they kick on the weekend or necessarily how well they perform on the field, more so, how many lives they can help save.

In 2008 the Saints, in partnership with Men's Outreach Service, established the Alive and Kicking Goals program aimed at raising awareness of suicide among young Indigenous men throughout Western Australia’s Kimberley region.

Youth suicide figures in the area are startling. Young Indigenous men are seven times more likely to kill themselves than their non-Indigenous counterparts. High rates of depression brought on by a loss of culture and substance abuse has led to such rates. 

The club felt enough wasn’t being done to educate and support people at risk and as such developed a program which is making a real difference in the region.

Late last year members of the Alive and Kicking Goals program set up fundraising initiatives to help support an international trip to Ireland to discuss mental health issues with a similar Gaelic football club.

The experience for members of both clubs was invaluable. Two groups with one shared goal discussed initiatives and methods to help tackle the issue head on. They also embraced another common interest, football, and played a number of international rules matches.

Encouragingly, "the project Godfather" David Pigram said the trip to Ireland was an eye opening experience into the issues facing other communities around the world.

"We got over there and shared what we are doing here," Pigram said.

"They’re having similar issues with the rates of suicide and they were really stoked at the type of peer education program we were implementing.

“I think for a lot of the guys it actually opened their eyes to the different culture and how there’s similar issues over here with youth suicide.

"We find we’re actually a lot further ahead than them because they’re pretty under-resourced. We are well ahead in the sense of strategies to deal with suicide which is not only a problem here but all over the world – it’s a sensitive issue to talk about."

Since returning to Australia, Alive and Kicking Goals is looking at methods to better engage young Indigenous men at risk.

One initiative was to create a DVD aimed at getting people talking about suicide and expressing their feelings and emotions.

The long term plan is to train, educate and create role models in all communities throughout the Kimberley who can engage with people on a day to day basis.

"Since Christmas we've had another big spurt of suicides, but in light of it we need to get out there and raise awareness and keep educating," Pigram said.

"It’s very hard in the remote communities to be there on the ground. Ideally, we want to train people in communities to engage at-risk people, and get it happening constantly instead of being there just once or twice.

"We need to create more role models and positive people in the community, not just someone coming and going, because there needs to be people in there permanently."

Pigram, who has been personally touched by suicide, said Alive and Kicking Goals will continue to look at ways to reduce suicide among Indigenous men.

"We’re the only ones who can deal with it effectively and work out a plan that is going to save more lives," he said.

"I’m not saying we’re the saviors but we're part of a small wheel that can help people open up and talk about it in the first place and hopefully prevent suicide.

"It’s been a great journey so far to date and I think a lot of people were expecting big outcomes quickly. But I think the process is the key and getting young people involved in the program as well is going to give it more meaning and sustainability."

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