In the space of nine days this month, five Indigenous girls died by suicide. A 15-year-old from Western Australia. Another from Perth. A 14-year-old from East Kimberley. And two 12-year-olds; one from Port Headland, WA, and another from South Australia.
That’s five girls under the age of 16. Five children who felt so desperate, so hopeless they chose to take their own lives.
One of the girls is believed to have been a victim of bullying.
The schoolgirl from Perth posted a cry for help on Facebook hours before she took her own life.
“Once I’m gone, the bullying and the racism will stop,” the young girl wrote.
“She was really upset by it,” the girl’s 17-year-old sister told The Australian. “There was racism involved – a lot of the time it was just random people who don’t realise what they’re saying.”
These deaths are a tragic reflection of what ought to be considered a national health crisis. For the suicide rate among Indigenous Australians is three times higher than it is among the rest of the population, and there’s been no appreciable reduction for a decade. In 2017, that equated to 165 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people dying by suicide.
Among Indigenous youth, the picture is all the more distressing. According to data compiled by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, suicide is the leading cause of death for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people between the ages of five and 17, accounting for 40 per cent of deaths within that age group.
As Matthew Cooke, former chair of The National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, previously noted, there are specific political, cultural and historic considerations that forge the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous mental health.
“For example, we know that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continue to be adversely affected by racism, disconnection from culture, and the long history of dispossession. All of these factors contribute to poor mental health, substance misuse and higher suicide rates,” he wrote.