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  • Young Indigenous women with Culture is Life, advocating for youth suicide prevention in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

    Young Indigenous women with Culture is Life, advocating for youth suicide prevention in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. | Photo: @RecAustralia

Published 27 March 2019
Opinion

Indigenous children account for a quarter of the nation's child suicides, yet they represent only 5 percent of the youth population.

The suicides of at least 24 young Indigenous people, this year, in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in Australia has raised concern among government officials and human rights groups. 

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Australia: Cultural Ineptness Causes Indigenous Suicide 'Shame'

Indigenous children account for a quarter of the nation's child suicides, yet they represent only 5 percent of the youth population. The suicides, which have occurred disparately throughout the country, has been called a national crisis.

Out of the 24 reported suicides, three of the victims were 12-years-old, according to the National Indigenous Critical Response Service (NICRS). While this service provides support to First Nations communities after the event, there has not been any campaign for suicide prevention specifically in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities until now.

The R U OK? campaign would be the first to initiate conversations and provide support within the Indigenous communities, and is directed by Dr. Vanessa Lee, a Yupungathi and Meriam woman. Lee acknowledges that the Australian government has provided record amounts of funding for suicide prevention in the country, but that Indigenous-run organizations are largely overlooked.

Lee points out that funding is not distributed based on evidence-based research, and if it were, Indigenous communities would be prioritized to receive funding to address contributors specific to them.

"We're seeing this discrimination, racism and bullying of Indigenous people... that needs to stop because young people aren't coping and don't know how to stop these bullies and this racism embedded into our society."

The doctor says the main reason Aboriginal-controlled organizations are better equipped for handling suicide prevention within their own communities is their understanding of culture.

The Coroner of Western Australia, Ros Fogliani, agrees that "it may be time to consider whether the services themselves need to be co-designed in a completely different way that recognizes ... the need for a more collective and inclusive approach towards cultural healing for Aboriginal communities."  

The coroner has presented a list of recommendations specific to the Indigenous communities, to the government, such as screening services for babies born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) and a statewide Aboriginal cultural policy.

Poverty is one of the main contributors, as the majority of Indigenous people who committed suicide this year were struggling with it.

"Nearly 100 percent of suicides of First Nations peoples are those living under the poverty line and the deeper the poverty the higher the rates," says Gerry Georgatos from the NICRS. Poverty is a part of the intergenerational trauma that increases the likelihood of an Indigenous person taking their own life, alongside racism, and exposure to substance abuse and domestic violence. 

Despite campaigns such as the Closing the Gap program aimed at providing equity opportunities for Indigenous communities, the program's report reiterates the continued disparity between Indigenous Australians and non-Indigenous citizens in access to health, education, and employment.

Georgatos says that, suicide prevention campaigns such as R U OK? need lies in prioritizing "the Indigenous suicide prevention space with outreach, intensive psychosocial support, helping people improve their life circumstances... and early intervention.”

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