Abo­rig­i­nal sui­cide cri­sis as four more girls take their lives

The Weekend Australian - - FRONT PAGE - PAIGE TAY­LOR

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

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