A new project to develop a service model for a telephone helpline and online counselling and crisis support service run by and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has recently been set up by the APS in partnership with the Australian Indigenous Psychologists Association (AIPA). With funding from the Federal Government Department of Health and Ageing, the scoping project has as its aim the establishment of the ‘Call-a-Cuz’  Indigenous helpline.

Background to the project

Indigenous Australians are almost three times as likely to end their lives through suicide as non-Indigenous Australians and four times more likely to self-harm. Yet despite being a high risk group, Indigenous Australians face enormous challenges in accessing quality and consistent mental, social and emotional health care and support.

The Australian Government funds a number of helpline services, including Lifeline’s 24 hour crisis support line, Mensline, Kids Helpline, the Suicide Call Back Line and the new 1800 Respect line (targeting survivors of family violence). It provides ongoing funds to these services because it understands the crucial role they play in saving lives and helping vulnerable families and individuals.

Available evidence highlights why the Indigenous uptake of these mainstream services has been extremely poor (The Echidna Group, 2007). Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander callers are in need of a helpline that gains their trust and confidence by providing optimal and culturally sensitive services.

In 2009-2010, research was undertaken in Mackay, Queensland, on suicide in the Indigenous community. This research followed the tragedy of a suicide cluster in Mackay’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and was overseen by a critical reference group comprised of community and agency representatives. The subsequent report, titled The Life Promotion Project: An Indigenous Community Response to Suicides in Mackay, outlines the community’s call for a range of strategies (Barnett et al., 2010). It was within this context that the ‘Call-a-Cuz’ helpline was first suggested to the Australian Indigenous Psychologists Association.

An Indigenous-specific helpline service will broaden the safety net and assist in closing the gap for vulnerable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and individuals, who experience emotional or psychological distress at rates twice that of other Australians. The proposed telephone and online counselling service will be structured to respond to Indigenous concepts of social and emotional wellbeing and will use evidence-based Indigenous-specific risk and protective factors to address social and emotional wellbeing and mental health issues. It will also help to build a strong and fully qualified workforce of Indigenous health professionals.

Scoping phase

The Call-a-Cuz project team are currently conducting consultations with community in Mackay and holding Teleweb Expert Roundtables in Melbourne and Canberra to discuss best practice models of service delivery and operational frameworks, as well as the challenges of developing online resources, risk management policies, referrals, and the acquiring and training of workers to ensure a culturally appropriate service.

This is the first phase of an exciting project, just scoping the possibilities, and is due to be completed by the middle of the year.

The Call-a-Cuz project team consists of Kelleigh Ryan Assoc MAPS (AIPA steering committee representative overseeing project team), Harry Lovelock (APS Executive Manager), Dr Julie Morsillo MAPS (APS Research Officer), Leda Barnett (AIPA member) and Katherine Hams (Indigenous Consultant). For further information on the project, contact Julie at j.morsillo@psychology.org.au


Barnett, L., Kendall, E., McKay, K., McIntyre, M., Kolves, K. & De Leo, D. (2010). The Life Promotion Project: An Indigenous Community Response to Suicides in Mackay. Australian Rotary Health Fund: Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention, Griffith University.

The Echidna Group – Indigenous Research and Development Consultancy. (2007). Usage of Lifeline by Indigenous Australians Report of Analysis of Call Data, Outcomes of Stakeholder Consultation, and Recommended Strategies. Commissioned by Lifeline and funded under the National Rural Primary Health Projects.

InPsych - April 2013


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Vol 35 | Issue 2