By Meredith Griffiths
Aboriginal mothers are 17.5 times more likely to die from homicide than non-Aboriginal mothers, according to new research.
The Telethon Kids Institute analysed West Australian data about deaths from external causes from 1983 to 2010 and found about a quarter of Aboriginal mothers who died in that time were homicide victims.
“I think it pinpoints… domestic violence issues that Aboriginal women are sometimes faced with,” report author Carrington Shepherd said.
Overall, Aboriginal mothers were 6.5 times more likely to die from preventable causes than non-Aboriginal mothers.
The main external cause of death was accidents, with about 40 per cent of the Indigenous mothers dying in transport accidents.
“They tend to live in more remote areas where the roads are of poorer standard and speed limits are higher, but also, and this is also connected to areas of poverty and socio-economic disadvantage, they tend to have access to cars that aren’t as safe and wearing seatbelts is an issue as well,” Dr Shepherd said.
The report, published in the BMC Public Health journal, shows about 14 per cent of the deaths were suicides meaning Aboriginal mothers were 3.5 times more likely to kill themselves than non-Aboriginal mothers.
It says risk factors for suicide in Aboriginal people include a lack of purpose and role models and dislocation from family and community.
“In terms of Aboriginal mothers we’re talking about issues of potential sexual abuse and intimate partner abuse that can lead to issues with social and emotional wellbeing and poor mental health,” Dr Shepherd said, adding that the impact of the Stolen Generation was also still being felt in subsequent generations.
Early death of mothers leads to life-long problems among children
The researchers analysed data from the West Australian midwife notification system, death registry, hospital morbidity data system and mental health information system.
The median age of death of Aboriginal mothers was 33 years old and the median age of their youngest child was 4.8 years old.
“When children face maternal loss at this stage of life the evidence is quite clear that this can lead to long periods of grief, and depression and anxiety and stress as well,” Dr Shepherd said.
“It can lead, further down the track, to problems with identity development and also the difficulties associated to the transition to out of home care when that’s an issue.