'EPIDEMIC': Mum's plea to end staggering suicide rates
WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that the following story contains images of people who have died.
A MOTHER who lost her daughter to a shock suicide in the middle of a court trial has called for measures to address an "epidemic” in indigenous health.
The day before Valerie White's daughter ended her own life, a New South Wales police officer locked the 21-year-old in a cell and told her she could face jail for a simple drink-driving offence, the mother says.
This was the "awful” treatment Mrs White fears contributed to her daughter's death, and a situation she believes would not have happened to a non-indigenous woman.
Seventeen years since losing her happy and bubbly child, the Allora mother said Australia was failing to address the "heartbreaking” rates of indigenous suicide.
"It is like an epidemic,” she said. "This is a 21-year-old that never had any sort of criminal history, went to Year 12 and never had any sort of problems before.
"I am sure a young white girl would not have been thrown in jail like that and sat there all day and told she was going to see jail for a fine like drink driving.”
Mrs White said the treatment was extreme and probably instilled fear in her daughter, Pam Ondrovcik, who took her own life during a break in the trial for her drink driving charges.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the rate of suicide among indigenous Australians is two times that of non-indigenous Australians.
Part of the problem, according to Mrs White, was racial stigma within the medical and police professions.
"I think a lot of indigenous young kids, they don't know where to turn,” she said.
"They do get a lot of discrimination from the mental health sector, from the police, from doctors.”
Mrs White also lost a 29-year-old son-in-law after he was turned away from a mental health facility in Dubbo.
"He went there pleading for help,” she said.
"He had his bags packed and everything, ready to check himself in.”
Now the Allora woman has called for indigenous suicide to be treated more seriously.
"Every year I go to RU OK day but that is like a Band-aid,” she said.
"You can go out there and stand out with a yellow shirt but at the end of the day, are people willing to go out there and follow up with that person that says 'no I am not OK'?”
She said more training was needed to upskill people with a lived experience of losing someone to suicide and welcomed a new training program being rolled out in Warwick.
A free three-day workshop will be held in Warwick from June 24-26.
Mrs White said people with a lived experience were best placed to help in culturally sensitive suicide prevention.
"I think it is not so much training people that don't understand but training people like myself that have lost people and that have the empathy that can understand,” she said.
"We can go to people and talk to them, we know the pain, we know the heartache.
"Until you go through it yourself, you don't understand.”
The Warwick Daily News sought comment from NSW Police but did not receive a response.
To find out more or RSVP for the workshop, email email@example.com.
Help is available. If you or someone you know needs support phone Lifeline on 13 11 14.