The Christmas period is a vulnerable period to depression and self-harm for many people, young and older. Therefore a period where families, extended families and communities as a whole should keep a watch on family and community members who may struggle with the expectations of the festive holiday periods and support them wherever possible.
Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders aged 25 to 29 years have the highest suicide rate in the nation – 91 per 100,000 population. The overall national trend is 11 per 100,000 population. Research shows that during the Christmas holiday period this age group in particular demonstrates a pronounced vulnerability – often they are parents who are not able to provide adequate tucker on the table on Christmas Day or who are not able to afford gifts for their children.
Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander youth aged 15 to 19 years are also more vulnerable to severe depression and suicide during the Christmas period. In general Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander females have a suicide rate 6 times higher than their non-Aboriginal counterparts, and Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Island male youth 4 ½ times higher than their non-Aboriginal counterparts.
Last year, in the Kimberley region alone sadly there was a significant increase in the suicide and self-injury rates during the Christmas period, with the loss of a 12 year old the day before Christmas.
National senior consultant to the Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project (ATSISPEP), Bunuba woman, Adele Cox said, “Whilst we know Christmas is normally a time for celebration and giving, sadly, past experience has told us that a lot of our mob are vulnerable to depression and general distress which may lead to further suicides over this period. Often referred to as ‘the silly season’, we know that the increase in substance related violence and other disputes are upsetting for many people and families and we should be mindful of this as we get ready for the holiday season.”
“It is important that we are all on alert and provide supports and responses where we can to those people and families who are most vulnerable, and as such we should be vigilant at all times,” said Ms Cox.
Indigenous Mental Health Commissioner, ATSISPEP project leader, Bardi woman, Professor Pat Dudgeon stated families and community leaders should keep a mindful watch on others, young and older, during the Christmas and summer period.
“There is much more stress around Christmas and the holiday season. There is a hype of what special foods, decorations, gifts to buy, which for many are beyond their budgets.”
“For many people it can be an especially lonely period where they no longer have their loved ones around,” said Professor Dudgeon.
“The spirit of Christmas should not be about consumerism, but about peace and goodwill.”
“For Indigenous people, cultural identity is the foundation of who we are. Our Elders have been fundamental in this process. They are our wisdom-keepers. They have seen the changes so dramatically incurred in their lifetime. They are the vital bridge between the modern world and Aboriginal culture.”
Professor Dudgeon stated that the Christmas and New Year holiday periods, festive for many but not for all, are periods where communities must keep together and stay solid to reduce any distress that some may otherwise endure if left alone.
– Declaration of impartiality conflict of interest: The author of this article, Gerry Georgatos, is a senior researcher and community consultant with the Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project (ATSISPEP).