Suicide is a leading cause of death and a public health concern. On average two and half thousand Australians suicide each year. Globally, on average, suicide takes more lives than all forms of violence combined – war, civil strife and homicides. On average seven Australians suicide each day. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, the suicide rates are among the highest in the world.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the latest official data records 75 per cent of suicides as that of males and that female suicide rates have increased. In 2013, there were a total of 2,522 registered suicides – 1,885 males and 637 females. This translates to 16.4 males suiciding per 100,000 population and 6.9 female suicide deaths per 100,000 population. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the Kimberley and far north Queensland the suicide rates are in excess of 70 suicides per 100,000 populations.
Suicide takes more life years on average per person than any other leading cause of death. Cancer and heart disease both average less than 8 years of life years lost on a per person average but suicide takes around 35 life years per person. But standalone, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders suicide takes a devastating toll, with on average per person 50 life years lost. Suicide as a public health concern is yet to translate as a national priority.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males and females suicide at more than double the rate of non-Aboriginal males and females. The highest age-specific suicide rate for Australian males is in the 85 years and plus age category (38 per 100,000). The next highest at-risk age group is the 50 to 54 year olds (24 per 100,000). The age group 15 to 19 years is the second lowest at-risk (14 per 100,000). The highest age-specific at-risk rate for Australian females is the 40 to 44 years age category (9 per 100,000).
Where suicide accounts for less than 2 per cent of Australian deaths, it accounts for more than 5 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths. However many argue, including me, that there is an under-reporting of suicides and we estimate that suicide may account for more than 10 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths.
The highest age specific at-risk groups for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are the 20 to 24 and 25 to 29 years old. Suicide is the leading cause of death for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples between the ages of 15 to 35, where it accounts for 1 in 3 deaths. The suicide rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander 15 to 19 year old males is 38 per 100,000 and for females 16 per 100,000. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males aged 20 to 24 the suicide rate is 64 per 100,000 and 20 per 100,000 for females.
Many suggest that numbers do not tell the human story, that people are not numbers and this is true but the statistical narrative does matter because these numbers are people. We have to galvanise the national conscience with this narrative, through highlighting the abomination of its extensiveness.
The high Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide rates are attributed to a range of multifactorial interrelated factors including further marginalisation of acutely disadvantaged peoples, continuing racialised inequalities and multiple psychological stressors. Situational trauma should be addressed with healing and subsequent wellbeing but instead is allowed to degenerate into multiple and composite traumas and for many into aggressive complex traumas. There is a loss of sense of purpose, a loss of meaning of life.
Stress is a critical factor and young children are being exposed to an increasing accumulation of life stressors and stressful events. Then there is racism. Racism is a key source of stress faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples – and it is damaging to the development of childhood development. Racism gets in the way of social and emotional wellbeing, it creates low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation. Internalising the effects of racism is toxic and can lead to a sense of powerlessness.
Globally, it is estimated that for every suicide there are between 20 to 40 attempted suicides. In Australia, females are more like to deliberately injure themselves. In 12 months from 2008 to 2009, there were almost 27,000 cases of hospitalised care for self-harm (118 per 100,000 population). There needs to be focus on understanding responses, prevention and postvention, to the accumulation of life stresses, and to understand the impost of expectations that are beyond the marginalised and in general to understand what should constitute happiness.
Officially, suicide takes one in 19 of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lives. Despite that this statistical narrative describes the staggering crisis; I estimate that the suicide rate is in actual fact 1 in 10 to 1 in 12. One in six Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders living in Western Australia and the Northern Territory have been to jail. Nationally, one in 9 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders living have been to jail. The factors leading to the high jail rates, to the high suicide rates, to the high rates of destructive behaviour are the same. The racism and classicism of the silences cannot be allowed to continue.
Suicide is a leading cause of death, it must be responded to as a prominent public health concern and prioritised as one of the issues of our times.
Declaration of impartiality conflict – Gerry Georgatos is a leading suicide prevention researcher and participatory in several national suicide prevention projects. He is also with the Institute of Social Justice and Human Rights.
Lifeline’s 24-hour hotline, 13 11 14
Crisis Support and Suicide Prevention Beyond Blue – 1300 22 4636
Listen to: ABC interview with journalist Nadine Maloney – spreading the love
Other articles and media on the extensiveness of suicides and on suicide prevention by Gerry Georgatos:
Black led, Black owned conference
You do listen
Three youth suicides, buried next to each other – we were not put on this earth to bury our children
From my father’s death bed to the must-do to end the suicides | The Stringer
Risk of death high after release from prison
Child suicides higher than reported
Recovery the focus
40 million life years lost to suicide
Hidden truths – it is worse, not better
Some want to portray things on the improve
Suicide in people numbers instead of comparative rates Oppression is the cause of the majority of the suicides
It is not a competition but suicide is the leading cause of death
Do not play with peoples’ lives
It is not like me to cry
Call for a national inquiry
Catastrophic suicide crisis will escalate “unless”…
One in ten Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have been to jail
An eleven year old suicides – nine months later his mother takes her life
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
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
CAAMA Radio – Speaking out on Aboriginal suicide
CAAMA Radio – We need to be there for them
ABC News Breakfast – Suicide prevention – Christmas period a vulnerable time