For the past 24 months the University of South Australia’s (UniSA) Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Research Group (MHSPRG) in partnership with the Australian Red Cross and those with lived experience of suicide related distress, have developed a specialist suicide prevention program for refugees and asylum seekers in the Australian community.
In Australia, policies which promote deterrence, temporary protection and prolonged detention are further contributing to existing pre and post arrival risk factors for mental illness and suicidal behaviour among asylum seekers and refugees. Many among this group have been under significant psychological strain waiting up to six years to have their refugee protection claims assessed. Living with uncertainty for the future is known to be harmful to mental health. There have been at least 21 suspected or confirmed suicide deaths among refugees and asylum seekers in the past four years; five deaths occurred in 2018. This calculates as a standardised suicide rate of approximately 33 per 100,000 for male asylum seekers, significantly higher than males in the general population of Australia (19.2/100,000).
There is a clear need for targeted suicide prevention initiatives for refugees and asylum seekers. Suicide prevention education or ‘gatekeeper training’ is one such way to address this need. In response to this dire need the MHSPRG crowd funded a research project, in 2017. The crowd funding raised over $50,000.