I have dedicated a significant part of my life the last several years unfolding the extensiveness of the suicides crises on this continent and particularly among Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples. I have spent much of my time on raising awareness and contextualising the crisis in order to urge the ways forwards. However more so I have spent time on the ground, in communities, with affected families, with the at-risk doing everything that I can and as do so many others.
It comes with the territory that there will be critics, polarising views and hair-splitters. I do wince a little when the onus of criticism is about the quality of data rather than in depth on the underlying issues. There is always someone after a ‘gotcha’ moment and yes, there are others who are amateur stat boffins. Despite my own ‘rainman-like’ prowess with stats I am nevertheless about people, about the improving of their lot, saving lives, making a difference. I have held in my arms mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles who have lost a loved one to suicide.
Last year we buried an eleven year old and this year his mother. At this time I am saddened by a father who suicide took from his eight young children.
This article is in response to one particular individual who keeps on writing to me about my statistical narratives and the argument that some of the rates nurture the sensational and that accordingly they are misleading. In my view, this more than likely well-meaning individual is wrong.
When I am writing about Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander suicides, comparative rates do matter. The comparative rates and by age category with Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders and the rest of the Australian population depict two different tales. If comparative rates are say five, six, seven, eight, nine and ten times higher for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander age groups as opposed to their non-Aboriginal counterparts then the immediate question should be “but why?”. “Why” are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples suiciding at rates that no other cultures are and which include the dominant controlling culture?
Nearly all Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander suicides are of persons aged 40 years and less, with the majority aged 35 years and less. This is not the case for non-Aboriginal suicides. When people are taking their lives in the prime of life well this begs questions. When Aboriginal and/Torres Strait Islander suicide rates for those aged 15 to 35 years are multiple times that of non-Aboriginal Australians then we have to explore and recognise the underlying issues to these racialised rates.
We need to restore hope to people from the beginning of life. When children contemplate their identity as racialised and their lot as hopeless then we are living a tragedy instead of the light on the horizon. By the time many of these children hit their late teens, when they should be reaching out to all sorts of opportunity and aspirations, they are at a loss, floundering in various distresses and dysfunction. Many soon finish up broken-spirited, alone, homeless, in prison, accumulate mental health issues, substance abuse and breakdown clinically, displacing anger and ideate suicide.
The alarm bells should ring out loud and clear on the issues – racialised issues manifest by the assuage of assimilation bent government policies – when the depression, self-harm and suicide rates between non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children are significantly disparate. Contextually, the number of suicides of children are low despite suicide as one of the leading causes of death but childhood is our most resilient stretch, when all should be near carefree and everything seem happy and possible. But when this stretch of our lives is broached by chronic unhappiness then the alarm bells should toll and the nation’s attention galvanised.
But if some people just want ‘numbers’ instead of ‘rates’ well then in this article I will provide these despite the fact that the ‘head count’ alone does not tell the narrative contextually, does not signify the extensiveness of the tragedy and the background. Let us remember that for instance Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples comprise less than 3 per cent of the national population.
Suicide is a leading cause of death for all Australians with on average seven Australians committing suicide each day – 50 suicides a week, more than 2,500 suicides per year.
Domestic violence costs nearly two Australian lives a week.
On average there are nearly three suicides a week of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders.
Suicide and domestic violence deaths are the tragic tip of the iceberg.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics there are 671,000 people who identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders.
More than 10,000 Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders are in prison.
Nearly 30,000 Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders are in some form of homelessness.
Thereabouts 100,000 Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders living may have been to prison, but no less than 70,000 Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander living have done jail time.
I can keep on going with the ‘numbers’ of people living in extreme poverty, in shanty-towns, third-world-akin conditions, below the Henderson Poverty Line, the numbers of children homeless and so on.
The numbers describe the tale, the tragedy but the comparative rates do describe if there are two contrasting disparate tales, one for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders and one for the rest of the population. These contrasting tales are delivered by both comparative rates and narratives of lived experiences and may evidence the racism that many of us on the ground have known since we were children.
Declaration of impartiality conflict: The author of this article, Gerry Georgatos, is a suicide prevention researcher with various national and other projects and is also a community consultant with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project (ATSISPEP).
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:
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
Royal Commission – NITV
A humanitarian crisis
Beating back 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
Indigenous suicide prevention ambassador
Mother takes her own life after losing beloved son
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.
ABC – Indigenous suicide rates at crisis levels