The suicide crisis will soon hurt nearly every First Nations family if it continues unabated – it is rising from the horrifically tragic to the catastrophic. If the Federal Government does not act soon a genocidal-like catastrophe is fast approaching that will indelibly scar the nation’s heart and soul. Child, youth and adult suicides are at never before known numbers, with suicides accounting for one in 24 of all deaths but research shows that the suicides are more likely one in 12 and heading to what can only be described as akin to genocide.
Where there were 100 suicides per year of First Nations people from 2001 to 2010, the last three years have averaged at least 130 suicides per year according to my own research. Government collected data often lags, two and three years. The median ages of suicides, child, youth and adult have got younger every year.
If this trend continues we could soon have – by 2020 – 250 suicides each year, and that is more than ten per cent of all Aboriginal and Islander deaths per annum. This does not include other unnatural deaths and the premature deaths. We already know that one in three of First Nations people will die before the age of 45.
But the tragedy of so many children and young people suiciding – especially in remote and regional communities – suggests that future population numbers of Aboriginal peoples in the remote will dwindle.
There are on average 2400 deaths each year of people who identity as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, and 100 of these deaths are reported by the Australian Bureau of Statistics to die by suicide. But these are only the reported suicides. There are many deaths that are classified as having been brought about by various injuries, self-harm – substance abuse, and other unnatural means which produced an underreporting of suicides. I estimate that the suicides are in fact 1 in 12 to 1 in 16 of all the deaths.
Perth’s Dumbartung Aboriginal Corporation CEO, Robert Eggington said he is aware of the underreporting – the State Coroner Alastair Hope confirmed to him the likelihood of this.
“The State Coroner told me that there is underreporting because of classification issues. They are limited by resources and time when it comes to investigating deaths, and apparently it’s harder when investigating Aboriginal deaths. Therefore there are deaths that should have been classified as suicides that were not,” said Mr Eggington.
Mr Eggington held a Suicide Crisis Summit on May 21 last year, 340 attended, including Government representatives, and an eight member delegation from the Summit met with Premier Colin Barnett for nearly an hour and presented him with Dumbartung’s Suicide Prevention Plan. But despite some frontline services funding – $50,000 – for Dumbartung to train Government staff on some of the issues, especially cultural ones, Dumbartung is still waiting to hear on funding for its coalface programs. It is approaching a year since the meeting with the Premier, and the spates of suicides in Western Australia are smashing every tragic record.
“We stated last year at the Suicide Summit that unless the scourge of suicide is deterred in our communities that it will not be limited to most of us being touched by suicides only through our extended families but because of the pace it is moving, within five years every nuclear family will be affected by suicides.”
“And on whose hands will this blood be, not on the families but on the Governments who sat idly by,” said Mr Eggington.
Kalgoorlie-Coolgardie based Wongi Pastor Geoffrey Stokes works closely with many of his impoverished people – right throughout the Goldfields region – and he said the crisis is continuing and getting worse.
“Coolgardie recently endured a spate of suicides and it is even worse in the desert, with our men falling like flies. In the desert our people are taking their lives,” said Pastor Stokes.
“They’ll grab a rope and go to a tree.”
“Our people are oppressed, the curse of Terra Nullius haunts us to this day, they have nothing, it is all hopelessness and dysfunction, it’s the finger pointing at our men, and they get to a point where they have had enough of it and end it all.”
“The substance abuses are just an escape from all the hopelessness but how long can that last?”
“We need to get into the streets and march on all this, point the finger back, otherwise our people will be wiped out.”
WA State Parliamentarian Josie Farrer is the State’s strongest political voice on the urgent need to address the suicide crisis.
Ms Farrer is from the Kimberley, which owns the nation’s most horrific statistics. She said that in recent weeks there have been two suicides in the remote Kimberley town of Halls Creek – one of a child. Ms Farrer said she had recorded five suicides in the Kimberley since Christmas.
“The issues are not related to psychiatry or psychology but they are psychosocial. They are about social wellbeing. This is the richest State, the mining boom State, but our people are not benefiting from any of it.”
“It is terrible poverty and hopelessness they feel. They have been forced to live off Centrelink payments, $400 to $500 a fortnight depending on family size, and the Basics Card. They do not want this. This is not enough with cost of living through the roof.”
“Can you imagine what a father feels when he cannot afford to pay the rent or to put food on the table?”
Data shows that the most vulnerable group is the 25 to 29 year age group of Aboriginal and Islander males, with the suicide rate nearly ten times the national average.
“Can you imagine how easy it is for families to fall into debt and then depression when they are kept in such despicable poverty?”
“Our people try and try and the hopelessness gets to them, from a social wellbeing aspect they are being grinded down and finally they give up. We need to capacity build them, to lift them into hope.”
“We need urgent funding but it has to be about empowering our people and we need to support families, and none of this is happening.”
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