The Jilya Model

 The Westerman Jilya Institute for Indigenous Mental Health
(An Initiative of Indigenous Psychological Services)


Jilya means “my child” in founding Director, Dr Tracy Westerman’s Nyamal language and sets the vision for achieving better outcomes for Australia’s most vulnerable Aboriginal children, their families and communities. Our children deserve a better future.

The Jilya Institute is based upon two decades of evidence. It provides what is needed into communities who need it most. We know, and the evidence supports that this approach works

 The Jilya Institute for Indigenous Mental Health aims to provide a clinical and cultural best practice response to the needs of at risk Aboriginal communities across Australia. Sadly, we have communities where suicide rates are escalating and hopelessness is becoming pervasive.

 As a country facing this growing tragedy, we still have no nationally accepted evidence-based programs across the spectrum of early intervention and prevention activities. 

 Jilya presents an opportunity to nurture our people through best practice in suicide prevention, Indigenous mental health led by Aboriginal people and based upon two decades of evidence based research and practice.

This capability is assured by the considerable track record and expertise of the Founding Director of Jilya and Managing Director of Indigenous Psychological Services, Dr Tracy Westerman who has donated her time and the considerable Intellectual Property of IPS to the Jilya Institute to ensure its ongoing and national expansion.

 The ‘system’ has been built by non-Indigenous people, to meet the requirements of non-Indigenous people, and is delivered to Indigenous people by, frequently, non-Indigenous people. It is therefore unsurprising that this is failing and the implications of doing nothing new or different are clear. Indigenous suicide rates will continue to be exponentially and heartbreakingly high.

 The Jilya Institute is an Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation through the Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations (ORIC), and incorporated as a charity with the Australian Charity and not-for-profits Commission (ACNC)

 Our vision:

 The Jilya approach is unique in that it will deploy world’s best practice tools and will be the first and only evidence-based solution, led by an Aboriginal organisation, to address the significant and generational needs of our highest risk communities. The Jilya vision is to have a world free of generational child suicides. To ensure that programs are delivered in line with the evidence of what works and that every funded program understands and is capable of measurable client outcomes. This vision will be achieved via FIVE key aims

  • First, we will assist funded programs to be guided by an evidence-base of what works
  • Second, we will ensure that mental health capacity is mobilised where it is needed most – into our highest risk, remote, Indigenous communities
  • Third, we will determine causal pathways to suicide and mental ill health to assist programs to be prevention focused
  • Fourth, we will focus on determining evidence based, treatments of best practice to inform prevention services and programs,
  • Fifth, we will assist organisations to embed minimum standards of cultural competence within the existing mental health workforce to increase workforce capacity into high-risk regions. This will facilitate greater treatment capacity that can be mobilised into our highest risk communities.


 STREAM 1: Determine the extent of the problem. Ensure informed treatment focus, ongoing analysis and determination of causal pathways

Despite the WORLDS highest rates of child suicide we have yet to determine CAUSAL pathways for suicide. Causal pathways tell us ‘why’ which is a critical first step to program development and evaluation of outcomes. The gaps that we continue to have in Australia in relation to our most complex issues commence with better informing program focus and content to ensure that they are in fact focused on factors that we know are implicated in risk and which increase resilience.

This stream of Jilya will focus on the ongoing analysis of data currently being generated across Australia by practitioners who are utilising the Westerman Aboriginal Symptom Checklist – Youth and Adults. This data is being captured everyday across Australia by practitioners who have been accredited in these unique tools, but is failing to be analysed in a way that answers the most crucial questions that unlock causes of mental ill health and suicide prevention. It will ensure a significant number of gaps in best practice are addressed and that badly needed EVIDENCE of what works is accumulated.

The broad aims will include:

  1. Analysis of the causal pathways to suicide, mental health, criminogenics etc to determine whether there are unique risk and protective factors specific to Aboriginal people and which programs need to specifically target,
  2. Assist with the development of program content to ensure that programs are focused upon the reduction of known established risk and protective factors
  3. Manage and capture national prevalence data – this could be across education, mental health, suicide prevention, justice, child protection
  4. Determine appropriate and uniform psychometric tests capable of gathering mental health prevalence data
  5. Capture and analyse national data to monitor programs impacts and redesign in accordance with prevalence or mortality increases against continuous data obtained via the unique IPS developed and validated psychometric tools,
  6. Determine psychometrics of mental health tools to ensure test validity
  7. Train and accredit service providers in the utilisation of these tools and tests

Stream 2: Determine & training in treatments of best practice. 

Currently, and despite the significantly high rates of suicide, estimated rates of trauma and mental ill health there are NO established treatments of ‘best practice’ that have been empirically tested with Aboriginal clients.

This runs across all areas of need. Jilya therefore, aims to address this issue by research grants, partnerships to fund a dedicated team of clinicians who will determine treatments of best practice for trauma, depression, attachment etc., that run across the spectrum of mental health, suicide and arguably child protection, education and justice domains.

The overriding objective being that there clinicians will then be able to train ‘on the ground’ service providers in these treatments to ensure that there is best practice applied to those Aboriginal people at risk of suicide, mental health, justice, child protection sectors. The focus of Jilya will be an early intervention, prevention approach rather than deficit approach to addressing inter-generational trauma of Aboriginal people.

 Stream 3: Training high-risk regions in best practice program delivery

This stream will involve the upskilling of  services in IPS’ intervention and prevention programs in train the trainer format.

IPS has developed the ONLY whole of Aboriginal community suicide intervention programs that have demonstrated a measurable reduction in suicide risk factors (Westerman & Sheridan, 2020).

These programs are currently not available to our high risk communities due an absence of funding. The Jilya Institute will aim to enable the mobilisation of these programs in train the trainer model and through mentoring of services over time in delivery. This will enable programs to be community ‘led’ and ‘community responsive’ with external specialist support to ensure its complex and ongoing delivery into communities. This is essential to address the long term and entrenched nature of generational suicides and trauma. It also provides LEADERSHIP by value adding to skills in high risk regions rather than assuming that communities are capable of responding alone.

The program focuses on skilling up community members and providing targeted intervention to at-risk youth to ensure that there is the capacity to respond to suicide risk in the absence of service providers, which is often the case in our most at risk, vulnerable and remote communities. This approach has since been measurably successful in over 20 Indigenous remote communities throughout Australia. IPS has for two decades not been able to meet requests from communities for these programs, because of the absence of funding for these programs.

STREAM 4:  The Dr Tracy Westerman Aboriginal Psychology Scholarship Program

Sitting under the above streams is the Dr Tracy Westerman Indigenous Psychology Scholarship Program.