Aboriginal children and women are increasingly taking their own lives, with the number of suicides among indigenous Australians continuing to soar after a tragic few months across the country.  Four Aboriginal youths, aged between 15 and 23, killed themselves in a horror two days last week in Queensland, bringing the total of suicides among indigenous Australians to 31 during the first 10 weeks of the year.  Leading suicide researcher Gerry Georgatos, who heads the federal government’s indigenous critical response team, said a third of deaths this year had been children, including two 12-year-olds, and almost half were female.

It follows a record number of indigenous suicides in 2017, when 165 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (125 males and 40 females) killed themselves, and the toll is estimated to have risen to at least 180 last year.  The most recent tragedies involved a 15-year-old girl and a 23-year-old woman taking their own lives in Townsville within a day of two young men, 19 and 20, killing themselves in separate incidents in Mount Isa.  Mr Georgatos, who co-ordinates critical response and support services for grieving relatives, said the proportion of females and children was dramatically increasing as the number of suicides rose, particularly in regional and remote Australia.

“The suicide crisis for First ­Nations peoples remains an un­interrupted three-decade-long tragedy and it is a humanitarian crisis, with more children and females lost than ever before,’’ he said.  “Almost a half of suicides are now female, whereas historically the proportion was around nine to one, male to female, although that had increased in the past years or so to about a quarter being women or girls.

“We have yet to receive all of the coroners’ reports, but I estimate there will be about 180 suicides last year among First Nations people and about 50 of them were under the age of 18 years.’’

In January, four young Aboriginal girls, aged between 12 and 15, had killed themselves in a single week.  About 5% of Australian children aged up to 17 are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, but 40% of the children who took their own lives in 2018 were indigenous.

Hannah McGlade, a senior indigenous research fellow at Curtin University who detailed the trauma of sexual abuse against Aboriginal children in her 2012 book Our Greatest Challenge, said there were links between that abuse and the high rates of indigenous youth suicide.  “It’s really important to discuss this. It’s critical,” Dr McGlade said.

“Not all suicide victims have experienced child sexual abuse, but many have.’’  To find solutions that helped children, especially girls, governments needed to prioritise indigenous women and their expertise in policy and implementation of programs, Dr McGlade said.

“We are not tackling gender-based violence against indigenous women and girls properly as we should,” Dr McGlade said.

“We are still struggling with systemic discrimination today.  That includes the silencing of Aboriginal women.  “I’ve been doing this work for over 30 years.  The stronger you speak up, the less some people want to know about it.

“I don’t pull any punches on this issue of gender violence.  Government doesn’t like it and often Aboriginal men don’t like it.”  Mr Georgatos said that “crushing poverty’’ was the common factor among those that took their own lives.  “In my research and in responding to suicide-affected families, nearly 100% of First Nations suicides are of people living below the poverty line,’’ he said.  “Above the poverty line, there’s few First Nations people taking their lives and in terms of rates of suicides above the poverty line, First Nations suicide rates are much less than non-indigenous.  “The more crushing the poverty for First Nations people, the higher the suicide rates.’’

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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