Pilbara police reveal full extent of suicides in region

Alicia PereraPilbara News
Pilbara District Police Superintendent Paul Coombes.
Camera IconPilbara District Police Superintendent Paul Coombes. Credit: The West Australian, Simon Santi

Police have expressed serious concern over a “well above average” number of suicides and attempts in the Pilbara region in the past two months, as the full scale of the local problem comes to light.

The Pilbara News can reveal across the region, seven people have taken their own lives and 22 people have attempted to do so since early December.

Five of those suicides occurred in Karratha and two in Hedland — the most recent case being in mid-January — while most of the recent self-harm incidents have happened in both of those towns and Newman.

The victims have been from a wide range of demographics.

Pilbara District Police Superintendent Paul Coombes said the recent figures were unusual for the region, where, unlike in Perth, suicides did not usually rise over the holiday season.

“Pilbara police are extremely concerned in regard to the number of suicides and self-harm attempts in the Pilbara in recent times,” he said.

“Statistically, the number of self-harm incidents is well above average. The number of incidents is far greater than previous years around the Christmas period.”

Supt Coombes said alcohol and illicit drug abuse had been contributing factors in some recent cases, affecting peoples’ judgment and decision making “in times of critical stress”.

“Of the recent events, alcohol abuse in particular has been a significant factor,” he said.

A critical incident group, made up of first responders and service providers, was formed in Karratha in early January after a spate of five suicides in town rocked the local community.

The group is aiming to develop strategies to prevent suicide and self-harm, including by better identifying and co-ordinating services available in the region, and supporting family, friends and community members coping with such incidents.

In one of its first initiatives, a series of public workshops are being held at the Karratha Leisureplex today and tomorrow to help community members and service providers deal with the aftermath of suicide.

Pilbara MLA Kevin Michel said it was important for community members to reach out and listen to those who weren’t doing well.

“Our State Government is actively working to address these issues, through initiatives such as the Think Mental Health campaign, establishing a Suicide Prevention Coordinator in each region of Western Australia, launching the Aboriginal Family Wellbeing Project, and implementing the Regional Men’s Health Initiative and the MATES In Construction Postvention Response Coordinator, not to mention the tireless work of Mission Australia and the Aboriginal Male's Healing Centre amongst other NGOs,” he said.

“I ask the community to get behind the building of the step-up step-down facility to address the mental health issues that are a major concern for myself and the Pilbara community.”

Supt Coombes said for each of the recent cases, police were liaising with the family and would prepare a report for the coroner.

If you or someone you know is thinking of suicide, phone Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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