Why do Indigenous Australians have the highest suicide rate in the world?

It is no secret that Indigenous Australians have one of the most, if not the highest, suicide rates in the world. As Gerry Georgatos explains in his article for the Independent, ‘Aboriginal peoples around the world endure disproportionate high rates of suicide, but Australia’s divide between its national average and its Aboriginal peoples is one of the world’s worst, with Australia’s Aboriginal youth suicide rate the worst. In total, Australia’s Aboriginal suicide rates are higher than those of every African country, third-world countries included, and higher than every country on the planet, with the exception of Greenland’ (Independent Australia, 2013) Read more here – ‘The Australian Aboriginal suicide epidemic’

But why is this?

From what I have researched, there is no simple answer. In fact, the reasoning behind this emerging crisis is complex and encompasses a number of different causes. However, I concluded that it all seems to relate back to one significant event of Australian history – colonisation. Colonization of this country was inevitable. However, the ways in which it was colonized has led to the injustices Indigenous Australians battle everyday. But it seems like our Prime Minister doesn’t think it contributed to much at all, he says it was one of the most defining moments in our history. Abbott recently said at an exhibition opening in Canberra that, “it was the moment this continent became part of the modern world. It determined our language, our law and our fundamental values. Yes, it did dispossess and for a long time marginalise Indigenous people”. What about the complex structures of communities, tribes, families, languages and laws that existed prior to settlement? But he doesn’t stop there, he goes on to say, “Noel Pearson frequently reminds us, modern Australia has an important Indigenous and multicultural character. Still it’s British settlement that has profoundly shaped the country that we are’ (Sydney Morning Herald, 2014). It is these particular comments, attitudes and complete disregard of Indigenous Australians that leaves us to feel lost, and without a sense of belonging or worth, which can ultimately lead to suicidal thoughts and self-harm.

Colonization is not limited to Australian history. In fact, most colonized nations such as Canada, New Zealand and the United States have similar statistics. According to a report from Hunter & Harvey, high suicide rates can be attributed to, ‘the impact of the breakdown of cultural structures and historical processes associated with colonization’ (2002, pg.14). From colonization, many other key factors resulted and have had a flow-on effect into the present. They include dispossession, cultural and physical dislocation, racism, personal trauma and the ongoing effects of disadvantage. Although this is a universal issues amongst Indigenous peoples, it seems the Indigenous peoples of Australia are suffering the most and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples will be the focus of these blogs.

As a young Indigenous person today, I can see the different issues within Australian society and history that have led and contributed to the alarming rates of Indigenous suicide. As mentioned, colonisation of Australia has had significant impact upon the First Nations peoples, an impact that we still witness today. As well as the many other critical factors as mentioned previously; dispossession, racism, trauma, dislocation – all of these factors contribute to the feeling of hopelessness and no sense of belonging. Without these things, what have we got?

We know that suicide is suicide, and is tragic in all circumstances. But Indigenous suicide is different, the rates in which our people are taking their own lives, particularly our youth, is catastrophic and requires immediate attention from the Government. Although they have claimed it is a national health priority, the rates of  Indigenous suicide have only worsened. This is not just a few Aboriginal kids taking their lives here and there, this is happening everywhere particularly in the north, at a shocking rate. And the causes are institutionalized and entrenched into our society.  This needs to be addressed.

It is disheartening and upsetting to think that our people see no hope or future for them. But there is, and with the help of strong communities and families we can assist in curbing this epidemic by highlighting the great support services that are available. And more importantly, hear from survivors who have been through this terrible illness. To have a platform where we can share stories about suicide will only help in telling our mob that their lives are precious and worth living.

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