On Monday, a 37-year-old mother of three in the West Australian town of Kalgoorlie took her own life. She drove to the “sorry site” of the community, where fourteen-year-old Elijah Doughty was run down by a car and killed earlier this year, and left everything behind. Her children. Her people. Her life.
Today, we hear there’s an “epidemic” of suicides in Aboriginal and Torres Straight communities.
That, in 2015, suicide was the fifth leading cause of death for aboriginal people, compared to the 12th leading cause of death for non-aboriginal people.
That one in three child suicides in Australia involves an Aboriginal child.
These numbers seem impossible.
Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders account for only three per cent of the entire Australian population.
How can three per cent of the population also account for one in three child suicides?
This post could be all about emotion. I could tell you about the town of Leonora, also in Western Australia’s northern Goldfields, where four young people took their lives in the first four months of this year. I could tell you about the feelings of the community. That “there is a sense of despair, a sense of hopelessness,” or that there “aren’t many Aboriginal families who aren’t touched by suicide“.
This post could be argumentative. I could tell you things you already know. That education, alcohol abuse, smoking, employment, crime and cultural identity are challenges for Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander populations. But these are small, easy phrases that drift out of the radio and through the car window. That slide off our screens. And move past our consciousness.
Instead. I’m going to show you the statistics. They are heavy enough on their own.
Read them. Really read them. Talk about them. Make them stick. Awareness is key in changing these statistics. In stopping more young mothers and fathers and children from taking their lives.
Here’s what the latest report from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project (ATSISPE) has found.
- More than 152 Aboriginal people died by suicide in 2015. 110 men and 42 women. This is the highest figure ever recorded nationally.
- In 2015, suicide was the fifth-leading cause of death for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People across NSW, Queensland, SA, WA and NT. This compares to suicide as the 12th-leading cause of death for non-Indigenous people.
- One in three child suicides are from Aboriginal children.
- Suicide rates in some regions — including the WA Kimberley, and parts of the Northern Territory and Far North Queensland — have been described as “epidemic”.
Another report on the Kimberley region specifically, published in the Medical Journal of Australia in June, discovered the following.
- Suicide rates for Aboriginal people in remote Western Australia are set to double by the end of the decade.
- Instances of self-harm are 10 times higher than levels reported in international studies.
- Young Indigenous men make up 71 per cent of suicide victims over the past decade in the region.
- The Kimberley region has the second highest rate of suicides in the world. Following only the Inuits in Greenland.
While the government plans prevention programs and mental health initiatives in these remote communities, we too, can do our bit to raise awareness. Remembering that these communities need our help, and that they’re right on our doorstep.
We can realise that these young people, who are at such a high risk of dying from something that is so preventable, that is so heartbreaking, need our support before our judgement. They need our understanding, before our criticism.
Awareness is key in changing these numbers. It’s something we need to hear more about. Talk more about. Three per cent of the population should not account for the highest rates of suicide in Australia.
It just doesn’t make sense.
If this story brings up any issues for you, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.