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Rural mining town battles mental health issue -

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A spike in the number of suicides in the Queensland mining town of Mt Isa has led to calls for more
mental health services.


ALI MOORE, PRESENTER: An alarming increase in the number of suicides, particularly among young
Indigenous people, in the Queensland mining town of Mount Isa has led to calls for more mental
health services for rural communities. State and federal governments have pledged support for the
iconic town, while grieving relatives and health workers point to increased drug use as a factor.

The ABC's Penny Timms reports.

PENNY TIMMS, REPORTER: It's a silent killer and it's robbing this remote community of its young
people. Statistics from the 2006 census put Mount Isa's population at just over 21,000, yet there
have been between 20 and 28 suicides this year alone. Many of those who died were under the age of

ALVIN HAVA, INDIGENOUS HEALTH WORKER: This isn't normal. We need to find out what's happening in
our town and to our people especially.

PENNY TIMMS: Mount Isa is an economically strong community. Mining is its backbone and provides
limitless royalties to the Government. But residents are hurting. Health workers describe it as a
poisonous epidemic. The families of victims want answers and government help.

VICKI PROSPERO, VICTIM'S MOTHER: You know, we pay a lot of taxes. It wouldn't hurt for them to do
something for a small place. You know, everything gets done in cities, but what about the small
country towns? Are these lives not as important?

PENNY TIMMS: Vicki Prospero's son Izac Marquez took his own life six months ago. Izac was one month
shy of his 18th birthday. His mother says there were no signs that her son was at risk of suicide.

VICKI PROSPERO: He was meant to start work on the Monday. He'd just got a job. And I told him how
proud I was and he said "Yeah, I know, mum, everything's turning out good." The next day that was

PENNY TIMMS: It's believed Izac took drugs for one of the first times that night. Ms Prospero
believes that played a significant role. She hopes that by speaking out, she will raise suicide
awareness and prevent more deaths from occurring.

VICKI PROSPERO: When you're hurting this bad, you don't want to see other people suffer like this.
It's very hard to see another family go through it.

PENNY TIMMS: Ms Prospero says she's been approached by several teens since Izac's death, all
needing help but not wanting to use traditional avenues.

VICKI PROSPERO: They say, oh, go to mental health. The kids don't want to go there, because it's
like an institution. They don't want to go to churches, where there's also help. They need
something that feels to them like a place where they can come, talk about their feelings with each
other even.

PENNY TIMMS: The state and federal governments last week pledged support during a forum in the town
looking into suicide.

MARK BUTLER, MINISTER FOR MENTAL HEALTH AND AGEING: Whether the precise figure is 23 or something
near it, it's very clear that there is a very concerning spike in suicide numbers and it seemed
clear to me from the summit that Bob Katter organised last week that the overwhelming at risk group
is Indigenous Australians living in Mount Isa and also in some of the surrounding areas.

PENNY TIMMS: Mr Butler says the Government realises it needs to think outside the square.

MARK BUTLER: Whether there are some investments we can deploy during the night time, whether that's
the old night patrols that used to exist in Mount Isa or something along those lines.

PENNY TIMMS: Mount Isa currently offers a number of mental health services. They're in the form of
hospital care, psychiatrists and psychologists, but Mr Hava says they aren't working. He'd like to
see a more contemporary service like headspace open.

ALVIN HAVA: We're too top heavy, we're focusing on a lot of government agencies trying to deliver
clinical services, but now we're trying to focus that to bit more of a community-orientated

PENNY TIMMS: Traditional owners say the majority of suicides have been young indigenous males. They
too believe drugs play a role. Chroming, the inhaling of dangerous substances, has been an ongoing
issue in Mount Isa and anecdotal evidence points to an increased use of drugs like ecstasy.

VALERIE CRAIGIE, TRADITIONAL OWNER: I think Mount Isa, Australia, and the world in fact are
struggling with... we probably have the biggest fight of our lives now because there's these
serious drug problems, and they're the hard drugs.

PENNY TIMMS: The women want a greater focus on healing and support. Ms Craigie says the deaths
aren't only hurting friends and family, but are destroying a culture.

VALERIE CRAIGIE: When we lose our elders, we lose our past. But when we lose our young, our youth,
we lose our future.

PENNY TIMMS: But getting people to initiate talk about mental health can be a challenge. In fact,
one of the main government health agencies in Mount Isa was unable to provide anyone to speak on
camera because none of those on duty had media clearance.

Alvin Hava agrees it's a painful subject, but one that needs to be discussed.

ALVIN HAVA: There's still a lot of people that are very raw and tender inside. The last suicide we
had was three weeks ago. There are many more that have tried to commit suicide in this week alone
that our services have had to assist.

PENNY TIMMS: Penny Timms, Lateline.