This child of the Kimberley region of Australia could well ask what future lays ahead for me - Photo, Gerry Georgatos

This child of the Kimberley region of Australia could well ask what future lays ahead for me – Photo, Gerry Georgatos

Whereas it was reported by the Australian Bureau of Statistics that for the period 2000 to 2010 one in 24 of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths were by suicide, in the period since this rate has increased to one in 20. The suicide rate is even higher than is reported. But this already high frequency of reported suicide as a cause of death has a traumatic effect on peoples who already endure a disproportionately overwhelming burden of bereavement stress because of the high rate of premature and unnatural deaths. In some communities, life expectancy is thirty years lower than the national average and one in three of their people are dead by 45 years of age. Child mortality rates are double and triple the national average.

One in 20 of all deaths by suicide is a phenomenally high rate and bespeaks of community distress, identity crises and a contagion of unhappiness. The one in 20 suicide death rate is a disproportionately high rate but it is also clearly lower than what it really is. Because of various classifications dependent on findings, because of reporting failures, because of jurisdictional differences in coronial processes and of the various uncertainties at familial, community and police levels in aggregating evidence as to the cause of death, I estimate that the suicide rate among Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples is more likely double – but previously I have estimated one in 12.

This is catastrophic.

Whereas in the first ten years of this millennia there was an average of 100 Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander suicides per year, this has increased to an average 130 suicides. In 2012, there were 117 Aboriginal suicides, which represented 5 per cent of all Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander suicides in that year – and therefore translates to one in 20 deaths by suicide. The period 2008 to 2012, where there were about 600 suicides is tragically an increase on the period 2000 to 2007, where there were about 700 suicides. The suicide rate has increased from marginally less than 100 suicides per year on average to 120 suicides per year.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Western Australia leads the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide rates, with 35.8 per 100,000 Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander population. The Northern Territory has a similar suicide rate – 35.2 suicides per 100,000 people. These rates are three times the suicide rate of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people in NSW, and twice the Queensland rate.

Of the 117 reported Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander suicides in 2012, 34 occurred in Western Australia, 29 in Queensland, 27 in the Northern Territory and 20 in NSW. Queensland and NSW have more than double the Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander populations of Western Australia and the Northern Territory. Both WA and the NT have Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander populations around 80,000 each while Qld and NSW each exceed 160,000 in their population counts.

The Queensland Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander suicide rate peaked around the end of the century, then dropped and then reached near its peak levels in 2001 and 2002 and has decreased slightly since. The Western Australian Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander suicide rate was significantly high in 1998, higher than most of the jurisdictional and regional rates around the nation at the time and of many currently. But the higher than usual rate increased every year to 2006, by which time it had doubled. Subsequent the spike in 2006, the rate began to decrease but never falling below the 1998 rate. In recent years the rate has increased again, with 2011 reaching close to the 2006 rate. Therefore, Western Australia is the worst of the suicide crisis among the descendants of the First Peoples, although the Northern Territory tragically competes with Western Australia. But why is it that these two jurisdictions with half the Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander populations of Queensland and NSW are faring so badly?

The Northern Territory has generally maintained a horrific suicide rate among Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples at 35 per 100,000 since 2007. But it was worse for the Territory at the beginning of this new millennium, with a peak of 50 per 100,000 in 2002, decreasing to less than half that by 2006. In that year the Federal Government’s Emergency Response (‘The Intervention’) was launched. In subsequent years the suicide rate increased to thereabouts 35 per 100,000 where it has remained since. In 2002, 33 lives were reported lost to suicide in the Territory, decreasing to 16 lives reported lost to suicide in 2006, but increasing to 29 in 2007. In both 2011 and 2012, 27 lives were reported lost to suicide in the Territory.

The majority of suicides among Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples are before 35 years of age, with just about all of them before 45 years of age. The highest risk group is the 25 to 30 year old males but high risk groups are found in the 15 to 20 year old age group and within the 20 to 35 years age groups. For the non-Aboriginal Australian population highest risk groups are well above 50 years of age, with the highest risk group above 80 years of age.

For every suicide there are many more attempted suicides, and hundreds of incidences of self-harm. To some extent the estimations of the number of incidences of intentional self-harm are measured by the number of hospitalisations. The hospitalisation rate for intentional self-harm for non-Aboriginal Australians stands currently at 142 per 100,000 people but for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Australians the rate is 379 per 100,000. The hospitalisation for intentional self-harm for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people has increased from about 260 per 100,000 in 2004 to 379 today. Whereas Aboriginal males are nearly three quarters of all Aboriginal suicides, intentional self-harm hospitalisation rates are higher for Aboriginal women. Aboriginal women endure hospitalisation rates of 440 per 100,000 as opposed to 320 per 100,000 for their men.

Australia cannot continue turning a blind eye and deaf ear to these catastrophic suicide and self-harm rates. We were not put on this earth to bury our children – but we do. We were not put on this earth to betray one another – but we do. I will continue with my mantra – that there are no greater legacies any Government can own than to help first its most vulnerable, to improve lives to the point that lives are saved. Governments will fail in many of their prescribed and intended objectives but the one objective they must not fail at is in the saving of lives. The saving of lives must be at the top of the national agenda. When it is, lives shall be saved and we shall all be the better for it.


Lifeline’s 24-hour hotline, 13 11 14, provides counselling and advice to anyone in crisis.


More reading and links:

Preventing suicide – “no greater legacy” | The Stringer

Understanding Australia’s suicide crises

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

Other media:

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


Tiga Bayles and Gerry Georgatos discuss the suicide crises

The Wire – The suicide crisis

Unpaid fines leading Indigenous over representation