Between 2001 and 2010, there were 996 suicide deaths registered across Australia where the deceased person was identified as Aboriginal in origin. Suicides accounted for 4.2% of all registered deaths of people identified as Aboriginal in 2010 when compared with 1.6% for all Australians.

With the suicide rate of the indigenous community soaring to a height of 4.2% which is four times that of Australia’s national suicide rate, it becomes the need of the hour to take important measures.

Mental health clinicians have come up with a new idea that provides access to mental health assistance even in the remote communities.

Many indigenous people live in remote areas where mental health services are inaccessible. The therapists who provide mental health services in remote areas are rare or nonexistent. Besides most of the treatments for mental health problems have been developed for European Australians rather than Aboriginal Australians.

Mental health clinicians have come up with an app that helps address these challenges. A new smartphone app will provide suicide prevention treatments. The app is named I-bobbly and is designed especially for the Aboriginal people who are residing in remote areas.

Alive and Kicking Goals Suicide Prevention Project’s Joe Tighe is of the opinion that this app may be able to reach communities that traditional suicide prevention treatment programs cant access at the moment.

He describes what the app is about when he says, “It is based on a couple of therapies that you usually work with a counsellor… usually face to face. So it is in a way trying to remove that face to face contact and allow people to use an application which will get them to examine their own thinking patterns if they are stressing out about whatever it is in life and to remove themselves from their thoughts a little bit”.

The app is designed to deliver treatments based on mindfulness and value-based actions. It also draws on various stories and imageries and traditional activities like fishing, drawing, painting and story-telling.

The app focuses on changing our thought process as Joe said, “A little bit of education identifying that as people we are not all thought. Our thoughts are things that just come and go- some are useful, some are very unhelpful. They are a part of us but they are not the complete picture of who we are. A little bit of…self-help with our thinking and how our thinking then influences our feelings and behaviours after that.”

Mr. Tighe further explains how the app can prove beneficial in remote communities, “It is an alternative option. The need is to try something different. Not everybody is comfortable in going face to face with a counsellor. Especially in remote communities the access to mental health services and treatments and therapists…is very thin on the ground. It is about providing another option.”

Mr. Tighe emphasises upon how the app aims on removing the barriers of hesitation felt by most people when sitting in front of a counsellor. “Some people are very introverted as well and they’re not interested in talking about their feelings or thoughts…to a therapist…and they might work better even on their own,” he says.

Mr Tighe says this new approach will be tested for its effectiveness with a controlled trial involving over one hundred people. Feedback from the results will be used to make improvements the technology and will determine how broadly the approach will be applied.

He says, “It is a controlled trial. At the start we are trying to see if this technology is any good or not”.

About the future of the app, Joe sounds optimistic.

“Some professionals might be scared that they will go out of jobs but we have to move with time.”


photo credit: Rusty Stewart 

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