An eleven year child died last year, but by suicide. Nine months later, only days ago, his 37 year old mother took her life. In the last year I have had to look into the eyes of parents who have buried a child aged 11 years, 12 years, 13 years, 14 years, 15 years, 16 years and 17 years. We were not put on this earth to bury our children, but we do. This tragedy and the underlying issues are the pressing issue of our time and they must become the most pressing priority of every government.

When this little boy took his life in the coastal Western Australian town of Geraldton in October of last year, I learned about it the next morning. However when I notified certain service providers, so as to standby for the family, they stated to me that my source was wrong because they would have known about it. But they were wrong and it took more than a week before they realised that this little boy had taken his life.

I worried about his family members, and urged for a through-care plan for the family, the same type of plan that the young boy should have been wrapped in long before he ultimately took his life. Extended family should have been involved to breakthrough the potential for assistance to the immediate family, to the most affected family members. People need people, far too often they just cannot do it alone and the whole self-responsibility mantra is a dangerous dicing with people’s lives.

Over the last several years, I have written widely about the suicides crises and I have delved closely with families who have lost their young to this crisis. My mind’s eye will never forget them, they remain solid in my thoughts, and so too remain with me the suffering of their loved ones. This morning I spoke to a good friend of mine in Adelaide, Narungga Elder, Tauto Sansbury – the incumbent NAIDOC Lifetime Achievement award recipient. Tauto is driving to a funeral as I write this piece – to the funeral of another young life lost to suicide. Before commencing this article I was talking to another friend in Canberra as we discussed the loss of three young people to suicide within a week earlier this year. Those suicides rocked various Canberra communities. Yesterday, a friend in Queensland discussed with me the youth suicides that have rocked families and communities throughout Queensland. I can keep on writing about the loss of life, and what leads to it and I can write about the obscene neglect of all this by one government after another but I have done this. I have shifted my focus to the requisite urging for comprehensive response, and I do so because we do know the ways forward. I have been writing about the extensiveness of the suicides crises and the ways forward for years – more than 200 articles in the last couple of years alone and alongside numerous meetings with parliamentarians.

In recent weeks there have been two important national meetings, both of which I attended and strongly participated in, urging governments to respond to the crises. One was a national critical response meeting calling for bona fide suicide prevention. This meeting was held on July 17 in Perth. At that meeting the Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion flew in to attend alongside leaders and experts from across Western Australia and from around the nation. Urgency was the signature piece of their statements. On July 22, a national meeting was convened in Canberra – at parliament – with three federal ministers present, the Minister for Health, Sussan Ley, the Minister for Indigenous Health, Fiona Nash and the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion – with 25 of the nation’s leading experts in mental health and suicide prevention and prominent Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander leaders. Both roundtables were whole day meetings and the most important message was to implement ways forward known to work – not down the track, not in the weeks or months or years ahead, but now.

In delaying ways forward known to work, well this is a moral abomination and because the suicide crises are reprehensibly racialised, any delay or passing of the buck is in fact a veil and layer of racism.

There is no greater legacy that any government can have, than any of us can have, than to improve the lot of others to the point of saving lives.

We cannot lay claim that any of our governments have delivered comprehensive responses to various wholesale psychological and psychosocial distresses of families, extended families and to communities as a whole. Not when destructive behaviours, suicidal ideation and suicide take the toll they continue to take.

Our governments have a responsibility to repair the damage that they and their predecessors have done. We can definitely state that the social determinant levels and the social health quotients of far too many communities throughout the nation have been degraded by one government after another.

Last year following the death by suicide of Peter ‘Rabbit, a child who should have been wrapped in support 24/7, I warned of a disconnect between the various services, between responders and I warned of the fact that certain services which should have a 24/7 capacity in fact do not. The young boy should never have been lost. The other day, just nine months after the loss of Peter, his 37 year old mother took her life. She could not cope with the loss of Peter. There should have been the constant of support for her, a through-care plan and long-term, for the family.

His troubled mother had plunged into often unbearable pain after the loss of her son. She leaves three remaining sons behind, the youngest eight years old. They are being cared by grandparents. One grandparent said that the family had received no counselling. They are worried about the impacts on the children after the loss of their brother and their mother.

The mother wrote of suicide on her Facebook but stated she would not go through with it for the sake of the remaining children. But the fact that it was stated should have alerted others and galvanised various vital support because it was indeed a cry for help. She was effectively stating that she was struggling with coping. If you are struggling then your resilience is being tested.

We know that the people most at risk after a suicide are the family members. These are the people who need to be wrapped in care 24/7.

If they do not want to be, you do not give up on them, you do not walk away. You break through with the help and love of extended family. People need people and this has to be an unassailable tenet.

A significant proportion of suicides are of a second or third family member taking their life, and the most vulnerable period is within the first year after the loss of a loved one.

We have a humanitarian crisis in Australia among Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples, with suicide accounting for at least one in 20 deaths of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders. However because of under-reporting issues I estimate that the real suicide toll is closer to one in 12 deaths.

For Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders aged 15 to 35, who should be in the prime of life, nearly one in three deaths of this age group is by suicide. If this statistic, this moral abomination does not startle the nation into a critical response then what will?

The whole self-responsibility mantra has to be dropped, it is rubbish – people need people and we need to get out there and help them. Their circumstances are Australian made and we have to recognise this imperative and hence respond accordingly and continue to do so till such time as we have reduced at least to parity between the two populations of this continent the suicides rates.

If you are an Aboriginal male in this country you are at least a one in fifteen chance of taking your life by suicide. If you are an Aboriginal child aged less than 14 years of age you are at least eight times more likely to suicide than a non-Aboriginal child. This is a moral abomination. I can only emphasize, that there is no greater legacy that any government can have, than any of us can have, than to improve the lot of others to the point of saving lives.

A Critical Response is being developed urgently by us at the ATSISPEP (the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project) in addition to a volume of other work and with the support of the Federal Minister of Indigenous Affairs and relevant stakeholders and community leaders and it will soon be ready. But the sooner it is launched then at long last the journey begins to facilitating some of the ways forward that matter most. We must go forward and with no politics, no egos and no penny-pinching  getting in the way.

If we do not act now, the humanitarian crisis that is at hand, generally missed by the national consciousness, will reach catastrophic levels. When we couple the suicides crises with unnatural and premature deaths, Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples are facing that catastrophe. The worst racism in this nation, which already has a hostile aversion to dealing with the veils and layers of racism, is the one where we are silent about this tragedy and do not respond in the ways that matter.

 

Declaration – Gerry Georgatos is a researcher in suicide prevention and racism and is involved with various national and community projects in suicide prevention.

 

Lifeline’s 24-hour hotline, 13 11 14

Crisis Support and Suicide Prevention Beyond Blue – 1300 22 4636

 

Other articles and media on the suicide crisis and suicide prevention by Gerry Georgatos:

Understanding the abominable jail and suicide rates

The issue of our time – 1 in 3 deaths by suicide

When the right people lead then lives will be saved

Truth, not lies on Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander suicide prevention rates

A moral abomination – a narrative that is racialised; of human suffering and misery

Plato said engage with our politicians or risk being governed by the dumb – the suicide crises

Stop selling resilience 

Another misguided reductionist plan to reduce rates of suicide self-harm

The leading cause of death – for 15 to 44 year old Australians – is suicide | The Stringer

People strengthening people focus on suicide prevention

Understanding difference and unfairness is a first step in suicide prevention | The Stringer

Taboo, stigma and shame need to get out of the way for suicide prevention | The Stringer

Suicide is heading to a humanitarian crisis – it is a leading cause of death | The Stringer

Suicides are preventable – here is what we must begin to do | The Stringer

The extensiveness of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander suicides – 1 in 20 | The Stringer

Preventing suicide – “no greater legacy” | The Stringer

Understanding Australia’s suicide crises

Shame job Australia – they came through the gate with my boy’s body 

Suicides, high among overseas born and second generation Australians

Child suicidal ideation on the increase

It is racism killing our people – suicides born of racism

Kimberley suicide rate – one of the world’s highest – Yiriman is the way to go

My Country – But look how I am forced to live

What will it take to end Aboriginal disadvantage, the inequalities and the various crises?

What sort of Australia is this? Seven homeless children in an asbestos slum

Six homeless children fighting for a better tomorrow

Quality of life for Australians 2nd only to Norway but for Aboriginal Peoples 122nd

Dumbartung convenes suicide crisis summit

Suicide attempts among women on the rise

Australia’s Aboriginal children detained at the world’s highest rates

Culture should not be denied – change needs unfolding, not impost

Everyone in the Territory doing well, except for Aboriginal Peoples

Australia’s Aboriginal children, the world’s highest suicide rate

Wes Morris slams government suicide prevention programs

How many more suicides will it take? How many more deaths?

Hopelessness in suicide riddled communities

More government neglect of Aboriginal children

In identity lay the answers – ATSI suicides

$25.4 billion spent on Aboriginal disadvantage is a lie

Beagle Bay to State Parliament – Farrer speaks out on suicides

Government to address Aboriginal suicides

Empowerment

996 Aboriginal deaths by suicide – another shameful Australian record

996 deaths by suicide – one in 24 die by suicide

Australia’s Aboriginal suicide epidemic – whose child will be the next to die?

77 Aboriginal suicides in South Australia alone

Kimberley’s Aboriginal peoples old at 45 years

Australia, the mother of all jailers of Aboriginal people

Close the gap failed

Despite what’s being reported, life expectancy not improving for ATSI peoples – 1 in 3 dead by 45 years of age

Tumult of death – 400 suicides in last three years

30 suicides in the last three months as we wait for promises to be kept

Suicide crisis – genocidal numbers

Suicide crisis – from tragic to catastrophic

Suicide crisis needs real funding and actions

Hundreds more will suicide if we wait for 2015

Nothing will be done about suicides crisis

Scullion bent on saving lives

Elders across Australia say governments need to listen to them on how to address youth suicide

Suicides – western society and ancient cultures clash

If we are serious about suicide prevention

Australia’s suicide crisis should not be played down – the media must highlight it

From my father’s death bed to the must-do to end the suicides

Governments promise on ending suicides must come good now

More confirmation of what everyone knows, was suicide prevention inadequate

The must-do need to listen and trust if suicides crisis is to end

Working together – mental health and suicide prevention roundtable

Break the taboo around suicides, we reduce suicides

Suicide crises born of Australia’s inhumanity

Suicides – children

Suicides crisis linked to incarceration

Wes Morris urges funding for cultural methodologies

The betrayal of our children – the Northern Territory

New project offers hope to reduce Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicides

Depression and suicide prevention must be top of the agenda this century

World Suicide Prevention Day – suicide takes more lives than war

Western Australia – 1 in 13 in a jail, a bullshit state of affairs

Forgotten children of the promised land – the fight to save rural Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities

Yiriman saving lives in the midst of the Kimberley’s suicide crises

Healing Halls Creek

The smaller a community, the less likely a suicide

Overcoming disadvantage report shows disadvantage not overcome

600 Black deaths in custody by 2025 – jail numbers to soar

Get out of the way – Aboriginal suicide rates will drop

A nation shamed when the solution for its children is homelessness

Christmas, a period of vulnerability for many

Stop peddling lies $30 billion spent on Indigenous disadvantage is a lie

To end our trauma government must stop the assault on our people and our culture

In Australia there is the Aboriginal rights struggle

Kirstie Parker, Mick Gooda say enough of fine words – close the gap a big fat lie

Highest child removal rates in the world worse than Stolen Generations

Stop examining the oppressed – instead examine the oppressor 

 

Other media:

A humanitarian crisis 

Beating back suicide 

Youth suicide 

Youth suicide at crisis levels among Indigenous population

A nation shamed when child sees suicide as the solution

Families urged to look after each other as suicide rates soar

Response to rash of suicides in remote WA regions

ABC 7:30 Report – Deaths in custody and jail rates

Mother takes own life after losing beloved son, Peter Rabbit to suicide

 

Radio:

Tiga Bayles and Gerry Georgatos discuss the suicide crises

The Wire – The suicide crisis

Unpaid fines leading Indigenous over representation

Researcher says poverty is driving incarceration of Aboriginal people

One in twenty First Peoples deaths classify as suicide

CAAMA Radio – Gerry Georgatos Speaks out on Aboriginal Suicide.