Leilani Darwin: working to reduce suicide among young people

Driven by her personal lived experience of suicide, Leilani has worked hard to build trust and rapport with young people at headspace Inala, in Brisbane.

In partnership with local elders, community and young people, she designed and developed the UHELP program, which taps into cultural learning styles and strengths to actively engage young people in wellbeing promotion activities.

We caught up with Leilani after she received her award to find out how headspace has worked with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander services and community members in the Inala region.

“I think what makes our centre unique is our service manager said ‘what can we do to help you?’” she explains. “What can make a difference with what was, at the time, quite a large contagion of suicide deaths of young people in the area.”

 “What’s quite unique about the project is that culture was at the forefront of every single thing that we did.”

 “We had a cultural governance framework in the project, we had research conducted with AISRAP through Griffith University, and we really built in processes to ensure that it wasn’t just us telling them what we were going to do – that it was actually culturally appropriate and that buy-in and agreement from the community was the whole way through.”

The UHELP program (which stands for United Health Education and Learning Program) has resulted in some highly positive, and measurable, changes in the well-being of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

“What, as a community, we’ve been able to achieve is massive,” says Leilani.

“The research has been conducted by Griffith University, and it is actually shown to be the first program in Australia to reduce suicidality amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

“On top of that it’s decreased depression and anxiety. But most importantly, I think, as well as the decrease in suicidal ideation which was statistically significant, it actually showed an improvement in young people’s ability to seek help, thus reducing the stigma that quite often stops people in general from acknowledging that they’re not well mentally.”

“We saw a big increase in young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people coming to our centre as well, and us being able to provide a culturally appropriate service for them that was not as top-heavy as our normal process.”


headspace's Yarn Safe campaign focuses on raising the awareness of mental health issues and encourages young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to seek help at headspace, or other appropriate mental health services. View more on Yarn Safe here.