Aboriginal suicide crisis as four more girls take their lives
Four Aboriginal girls have taken their own lives in a horror week that has led one of the nation’s most prominent suicide researchers to predict indigenous children will soon comprise half of all youth suicides.
There is deep concern that the overall youth suicide rate has been rising in Australia, and among indigenous children it is rising fast. About 5 per cent of Australian children aged up to 17 are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, but 40 per cent of the children who took their own lives over the past year were indigenous, Gerry Georgatos, the head of the federal government’s indigenous critical response team, said.
According to Mr Georgatos, 102 indigenous children took their own lives in 2009. In 2017, 167 indigenous children died by suicide, and last year’s figure is expected to exceed 180, he said. “From what I am seeing it is heading towards 50 per cent,” he said.
The most recent tragedy was on Thursday in Perth’s south, where a 15-year-old indigenous girl is believed to have taken her own life. She had been living with her father who was devoted but struggling, a friend of the family told The Weekend Australian. Her death comes after a 15-year-old indigenous girl from Western Australia died in Townsville Hospital on January 3, two days after she was rushed there as a result of self-harming. She had been visiting relatives.
On Sunday, a 12-year-old indigenous girl in the WA iron ore town of South Hedland died by suicide. Her father had taken his own life in 2012, The Weekend Australian has been told. And on Monday, a 14-year-old girl in the Kimberley Aboriginal community of Warmun took her own life.
Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion yesterday said every suicide was a tragedy and the effects on tight-knit Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities were profound.
“The government commissioned the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project which was led by indigenous leaders, professor Pat Dudgeon and Tom Calma, to develop community-led solutions,” he said.
“In January 2017, the government invested $10 million in a National Indigenous Critical Response Service which makes contact with families affected by a suicide or a traumatic event and co-ordinates support services to ensure they are delivered in a co-ordinated and culturally
appropriate way that best meets the needs of the family.”
Mr Scullion said the government, through the Department of Health, was also investing $84.75m over three years to improve access to culturally sensitive mental health services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
It has also committed $36m to fund 12 suicide prevention trial sites and a further $13m to extend the trials, including in the Kimberley and Darwin regions. “In addition, in 2017 I announced $9.5m to expand indigenous mental health first aid training in remote communities,” he said. “Unfortunately, suicide rates among indigenous people are twice the national rate and five times the national rate for young people. For suicide rates to fall it is essential Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can access responsive and culturally-appropriate care — and this is something the critical response service provides.
“We are also committed to working with indigenous families to ensure their children are attending school and adults are in work which will support healthier communities.”
In November a study led by the University of Western Australia’s Pat Dudgeon revealed the Kimberley had 74 indigenous deaths by suicide per 100,000 recorded between 2005 and 2014, more than three times the average rate across Australia. At the time Professor Dudgeon said indigenous suicide was the fifth-leading cause of death for indigenous Australians compared with 13th among non-indigenous Australians. “The figures from the report are very concerning; it is evident that far more needs to be done,” Professor Dudgeon said.
“Although it’s a complex issue and there is no single factor leading to suicide, it is evident that colonisation has played a key role in negatively affecting the general mental health and wellbeing of indigenous people, resulting in higher suicide rates in the countries reviewed.
“Governments need to do more to prevent suicide by including indigenous people in their discussions. We also need to consider the social factors leading to these issues and the need for community-led, culturally based solutions. ” Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14