Suicide is on the increase – the last annual national toll increased by 300 suicides. A significant proportion of the increase was made up of migrants. Nearly 3,000 Australians took their lives in 2014. We know of the humanitarian crisis with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicides but little is known about the high suicide rates of many migrant groups – they have been forgotten in the national discussions on suicide and what leads to suicide. The issues are multifactorial while there are fundamentals for all suicides, indeed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicides are different to non-Aboriginal suicides, so too are migrant suicides different.
More than a quarter of the Australian suicide toll is accounted for by people born overseas. Then there are other elevated risk groups associated with people born overseas. Children born Australian and whose parents were born overseas are at elevated levels of risk to clinical depression and suicide.
On average, each year more than 600 suicides are of persons born overseas. The last official count, for 2014, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the suicide toll reached nearly 3,000 – an increase of more than 300 suicides on the previous year. People born overseas accounted for around 800 of these deaths.
With the migrant population increasing and more diverse than ever before, migrant suicides need to be examined. A minority group within the migrant group, but with more than likely the most-at-risk, are Australian residents who came here as refugees.
It is also little known by most household Australians that migrants comprise one in three of the nation’s homeless. One in four of the nation’s homeless are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Australian residents who were born in New Zealand have high suicide rates, higher than the overall national suicide rate. Females from Eastern Europe have high suicide rates. However low risk immigrant groups include people originally from the Middle East, Asia and Africa. In general, suicide takes more lives around the world than all wars. According to the World Health Organisation, there were more than 800,000 reported suicides globally. Suicide numbers are higher among western nations.
Australia is one of the world’s most culturally diverse countries. Despite Australia’s cruel isolation of refugees in detention centres, proportion to total population we have the world’s highest net migration rate. Nearly 28 per cent of all Australian residents were born overseas, while another 25 per cent are second generation Australians. However despite a diverse cultural Australia, our governments and the nation’s boardrooms do not reflect the demography of this nation. Ninety per cent of our parliamentarians are Anglophiles, with 90 per cent of them with more than 100 years of familial history on the continent. Policy making remains in their hands rather than in the hands of a culturally diversified and culturally sensitive Australia. Institutional and structural racism can only end when there is power sharing. In a sense, as with obviously the many of the descendants of the First Peoples of this continent, the majority of first and second generation Australians sense themselves as hostages to the stricture of an existing social order. Assimilation is all there is, and for first and second generations it can be tough going, indeed with a price paid in regards to one’s mental wellbeing. There is an expectation to adjust ones behaviour and customs and identity but how far one can adjust oneself? Historical and cultural identities become a liability, this is traumatic psychosocially.
Despite the horrific apartheid inflicted on the nation’s First Peoples and despite the White Australia Policy, despite xenophobia and misoxeny Australia has got away as a relative socially cohesive nation. But racial tensions are not on the decrease, they are on the increase, with misoxeny and xenophobia daily in the news. Underclasses of racialised poverty are increasing. We are not carrying all our people together in culturally respective appreciations of one another, in terms of our common humanity. Australia still has a cruel bent for assimilation and does not respect unfolding, which is realised over generations, one, two and three. Racialism and racism are becoming more of an issue today than have for several decades. This has less to do with net migration of culturally diverse peoples and more to do with a fixation with a modernity’s historical self where what has been established should not be tinkered with.
We find ourselves without a clear picture, only snapshots, of the mental health of immigrant and refugee communities in Australia. We need to diversify and disaggregate our research. We need to pay respect to the fact that this is a culturally diverse nation. The future of any legitimate, moral social cohesion rests on this. According to the ABS, nearly 60 per cent of immigrants to Australia between 2000 to 2010 were from Asia, the Middle East and northern Africa.
The United Nations High Commission argues that data disaggregration is a must do if we are “to leave no one behind”. In a February 25, 2015 report, the High Commissioner stated, “There has been a recurrent call for data disaggregration as part of the disaggregated statistics as key to support tailored and evidence-based policy formulation.”
“It is clear that the greater level of disaggregation will pose a number of challenges to official statistics, and thus, discussions on this topic are timely and resonate with the discussion on the ‘Data Revolution’.”
The report criticised the data sources for the Millennium Development Goals as “designed primarily to produce national averages and tend to mask disparities and exclude population groups that may be among the poorest of the poor or the most vulnerable and marginalised.” The report argues that from a “human rights perspective” this should not be allowed. It argues that without disaggregation there is discrimination.
“Data must also enable us to reach the neediest, and find out whether they are receiving essential services. This means that data gathered will need to be disaggregated by gender, geography, income, disability, and other categories, to make sure that no group is being left behind.”
“No goal or target should be considered met until it is met for all groups that are affected, particularly the lowest quintiles of the national income distribution, ensuring that we leave no one behind.”
“No one should be invisible.”
The median age at death for suicide according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics was the same for both males and females at 44.5 years. Suicide is traumatic for families as the loss of a loved one is often unexpected and because on average per person suicide takes more potential life years than any other cause of death. Nearly ninety per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicides are of people less than 45 years of age.
The suicides of children are devastating for families, and child and youth suicide which are tragically high among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples appear to be also high among migrant groups and the children of migrants. More research needs to be done, as the United Nations report insists, the disaggregations have to be achieved so that no-one is invisible. According to the ABS, in 2013, suicide was the leading cause of death of children aged 5 years to 17. In 2009, 10 per cent of all deaths in the 5 to 17 years age group were suicides.
According to the ABS, “when all child suicide deaths are combined for the period 2009 to 2013, the Northern Territory reported the highest jurisdictional rate of child deaths due to suicide, with 8.2 deaths per 100,000 of the population. The national average for this same period was 2.1 per 100,000.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children comprise a significant number of child suicides. Despite Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children comprising less than 5 per cent of the Australian child population, according to the ABS for the period 2009 to 2013 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children accounted for 74 of the 280 suicide deaths of children aged 5 to 17 years. Many believe that of the 206 non-Aboriginal child suicide deaths that if we disaggregate we will discover that migrant children and Australian born children of parents born overseas will disproportionately comprise the suicide deaths.
In Australia, suicide is the leading cause of death for males and females aged between 15 and 45 years. To understand the ways forward we need to disaggregate population groups and leave no one behind.
Gerry Georgatos is a suicide prevention researcher with the Institute of Human Rights and Social Justice
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