Aboriginal suicide rates soar

UWA psychologist Pat Dudgeon
UWA psychologist Pat Dudgeon

ABORIGINAL and Torres Strait Islander people are dying at twice the rate of other Australians from suicide and among younger age groups the rate can be six times higher.

In some communities, suicide clusters involving up to 20-plus deaths in a short timeframe take a terrible toll and devastate communities left behind.

UWA psychologist Pat Dudgeon said it was time the terrible ‘gap’ was closed once and for all.

Professor Dudgeon said cultural identity was relevant for both black and white youth.

“It is not just black youth,” she said.

“They need to know they are valued and important and grow up with a societal sense of self-worth.

“In this society currently that is eroded by, for example, if they walk into a shop, they may be above board and honest but they are watched the whole time as if they are going to steal something and this erodes their confidence.”

In 2014 WA Health Minister Helen Morton announced $300,000 under the small grants One Life suicide prevention program.

The money has been made available to community groups to run suicide prevention initiatives.

Aboriginal health groups have applied for grants of up to $10,000.

“It makes sense to target funds where they are most needed,” Mrs Morton said.

“We also want to encourage community groups, local drug action groups and local government authorities to apply.

“We know that people with mental illness and a previous suicide attempt are more likely to die by suicide.”

National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Leadership in Mental Health member Adele Cox said she was heartened some money had been allocated to the problem but the sum was not enough.

“It won’t go very far but at least there is an acknowledgment that the issue should be addressed from government and not just academia and indigenous bodies and foundations,” Ms Cox said.

Prof Dudgeon agreed. “We’ve been trying to bring it to the public’s attention for some time now,” she said.

“It is something that the Government wants to address and it’s not only indigenous death, but all young people – white and black – are dying from this terrible suicide epidemic.”

She said young people often felt powerless.

“It’s hard to get action going in this area because it’s as if people can’t deal with it and a National Inquiry is needed, which I have been pushing for, for some time now.”

Prof Dungeon said some stakeholder groups had assisted as role models within the community.

“These groups have set a great example to others and work to assist and support in the area of youth suicide,” she said.

Prof Dudgeon is also chairwoman of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Leadership in Mental Health, co-convener of the Roundtable and co-author of the Working Together book.

“Commonwealth and state governments need to work together to raise the awareness, but it’s a myth that kids are influenced by speaking about it, we need to make it in the conversation and don’t ignore it either,” Prof Dudgeon said.

“We need to give youth a sense of hope. We need to work to something more like the Canadian model to strengthen these youth and a sense of self-determination and cultural identity as well.

“Self-harm and attempted suicide and other areas of mental health are not getting the attention they should be getting.”

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