National Indigenous Critical Response Service

In the five years from 2012 to 2016, intentional self-harm was the leading cause of death for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons between 15 and 34 years of age, and was the second leading cause for those 35-44 years of age. The proportion of suicide deaths for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (5.5%) is over three times greater than for non-Indigenous Australians (1.7%).

We also know those bereaved by suicide are at greater risk of suicidal ideation or attempt. Accordingly, it is important that:

  • supports are available to individuals, families, and communities affected by suicide, and
  • systems are developed to ensure appropriate community responses are implemented when a suicide or other trauma occurs to provide safety for those affected.

The National Indigenous Critical Response Service has been funded by the Commonwealth Government of Australia through the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet to:

  1. Provide a critical response to support individuals, families and communities affected by suicide-related or other trauma that is culturally responsive to their needs
  2. Strengthen community capacity and resilience in communities where there have been high levels of suicide to better recognise and respond to critical incidents and strengthen service system coordination.

Our Critical Response Service

Upon notification of a loss of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person to suicide or other traumatic incident, the National Indigenous Critical Response Service will assess whether there is a need for provision of immediate support to affected families, either directly or indirectly.

The NICRS does not seek to replace the valued work of local services on the ground, but rather we seek to work with local service providers in assessing the need for our involvement and to compliment the local responses where required.

If a need for our presence is established, and the National Indigenous Critical Response Service is invited by the affected family, we visit and meet with the family to discuss the best way the service can assist.

Based on discussions with individuals and families about their needs, we provide practical social support, facilitate connections with a range of local social, health and community services and where appropriate monitor and / or provide throughcare and support for individuals and families over time.

The Critical Response Support Advocates are not counsellors and do not provide counselling or other clinical support.

As required, we will advocate on behalf of families to ensure they are able to access the supports they need in their time of grief. A strong advocate can assist in:

  • ensuring good engagement occurs between families and service providers, and
  • encouraging services to work alongside each other to provide holistic through-care.

In working with families, we monitor the extent local services are meeting their psychosocial needs and as required we facilitate engagement to ensure families do not prematurely disengage.

We support people across Australia

Our Critical Response Support Advocates are prepared to travel where the need for support is assessed as beneficial. However, our Advocates can also provide support to families and service providers over the phone or indirectly through other ways.

Over the past year the service has been operating in Western Australia, Northern Territory, and South Australia. This year NICRS is commencing operations in Queensland and Victoria, and in 2019 we will expand to include the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, and Tasmania.

To contact a Critical Response Support Advocate call 1800 805 801

The 1800 805 801 number is available 24 hours, 7 days a week.

Generally, the phone is answered by one of our Aboriginal Support Advocates. If for some reason the call is diverted to an answering machine, we ask callers to leave their best contact number, and the Support Advocate will call them back as soon as possible.

If you or someone you know is suicidal

If you are looking for help please call one of the following national helplines:

  • Lifeline Counselling Service: 13 11 14
  • Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467 (cost of a local call)

Building community capacity

Our capacity building program aims to build the capacity of local communities to:

  • coordinate and respond to family and community needs when a suicide or other traumatic event occurs
  • provide bereavement through-care support to families and strengthen their access to coordinated care, and
  • take a systemic approach to suicide prevention that focusses on addressing the local factors contributing to suicide including mental health, misuse of alcohol and drugs, unemployment, domestic violence, sexual abuse, poverty, homelessness, and high incarceration rates.

How we identify which communities we work with

The communities we will work with are ones:

  • that have been identified as having historical or emerging high suicide rates
  • where we have been providing support to families affected by suicide, and
  • where communities have identified it as a priority for them to reduce to level of suicides in their community.

How we work with local communities

We use a community development approach to build community capacity which involves:
Stage 1: Developing a shared understanding of suicide locally: and discussing what needs to be done and who should lead this activity. This will involve us:

  • reviewing available data on the level of suicide incidences occurring in the community and current strategies related to suicide prevention or postvention to ensure we understand the local context
  • reviewing relevant available data relating to issues that are considered by the community and local service providers as contributing to suicide, and
  • meeting with key community members including Elders, local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations, and other local support services and government organisations including local PM&C regional offices to gain an understanding of the nature of suicide in the local community, who and what services are currently supporting families and communities to address suicide locally, and creating a dialogue of what needs to be done.

Stage 2: Creating a community dialogue of what can be done: Once there is a shared understanding of what the issues are in the community, we will use a strengths-based approach to create a dialogue and explore what needs to be done at a local level to build the capacity of the local community and service providers to respond to families and community when a suicide or other traumatic incident occurs and to strengthen local prevention activities. We envisage a range of strategies may emerge including:

  • developing a suicide response plan, defining the roles various local service providers will play if an incident occurs
  • providing professional development programs or mentoring programs to support local health professionals provide suicide postvention support
  • developing peer-to-peer mentoring, education and/or leadership programs relating to providing a crisis response after a suicide and/or suicide prevention
  • examining ways to strengthen access to mental health and other service support
  • programs to engage and support young people and connect them to culture, country or their Elders
  • reducing alcohol/drug use in the community, or
  • addressing community challenges relating to poverty and other social determinants of health.

Stage 3: Develop community consensus and a Suicide Response and Prevention Plan: prioritising action and the role community members /organisations will play. Based on the findings from our consultations, we will work with relevant community leaders and service providers identified as being important to lead the development of the plan. If a relevant group already exists we will work with them on developing the Suicide Response and Prevention Plan. If no group exists, we will establish a new group to support the development of the plan.

Stage 4: Promote the Suicide Responses and Prevention Plan: Once the plans are in place we will promote and disseminate these within the community and to local service providers, and outline how they can support and or be involved in its implementation.

Stage 5: Supporting implementation of the plan: We will provide training / resources / programs to support community members and local service providers build their capacity, in accord with the needs and priorities in the Suicide Response and Prevention Plans.

How we will build capacity across Australia

Through evaluating our work, we will seek to identify what is working well in building community capacity, providing postvention support, and preventing suicide.

Based on our findings we will advise Commonwealth, State and Territory governments about what is working and the types of resourcing required to address the suicide prevention and postvention needs into the future.

Common questions

Who will be providing the critical response service?

The Critical Response Support Advocates are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with extensive experience working within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and with a demonstrated capacity for strong advocacy.

How do I know if a critical response is required?

At times of loss, grief can be overwhelming and affected family members need the support of their local community and service providers.

Sometimes it is helpful for family members to speak with someone independent who can provide a listening ear, and help identify their support needs, and then advocate/liaise on their behalf to gain access to services from government and non-government services.

However, sometimes families may feel the local service providers are meeting all their needs during what is a very difficult time, and do not see a need for any additional assistance.

We always try to make contact with families directly to see if and in what ways we can help.

Families views on whether they require our assistance or not will be respected.

What is the level of community involvement and participation?

When we working in a community after an incident has occurred, our Critical Response Support Advocates make themselves known to key individuals, including Elders, and to local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations to see if we can help, and if so, in what ways?

Our Critical Response Support Advocates will listen to and work alongside communities. They will work in ways that ensures local communities are guiding our approach and delivery, and identify ongoing ways to support affected families.

How does the NICRS link to mainstream services?

All service providers: both mainstream, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-specific have something to offer families and communities affected by trauma.

The National Indigenous Critical Response Service works closely with all relevant services in communities to ensure individuals and families receive holistic and culturally responsive services to meet their needs.

Every family deserves the best support the local service providers have on offer.

When and where are the services available?

The National Indigenous Critical Response Service supports any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individual, family and community across Australia.

The service is being phased in across the nation. It currently operates in Western Australia, the Northern Territory and South Australia. This year NICRS is commencing operations in Queensland and Victoria, and in 2019 we will expand to include the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, and Tasmania.