Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people take their lives at more than four times the rate of non-Indigenous people in some demographics, according to data issued by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Information recorded in 2010 showed that the rate of suicide among Indigenous men aged 25 to 29 was 90.8 deaths per 100,000 people, compared to 22.1 in its non-indigenous counterpart.
Chair of National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Leadership in Mental Health, Professor Pat Dudgeon, told SBS that the suicide rate among Indigenous people was increasing.
“There aren’t very many Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people who haven’t had a suicide in their families nowadays,” she said.
“In my immediate and my extended families, we’ve had people that have taken their own lives. I think it’s becoming not an unusual thing for a lot of people, a lot of families.
“None of us can ignore that this is happening in our communities.”
Listen: Stephanie Anderson speaks with Professor Pat Dudgeon.
Professor Dudgeon will lead a new project addressing what she called “appalling” suicide rates.
She said the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project would formally examine existing Indigenous suicide prevention services and help develop an evidence base for successful programs.
She hoped the project, to be undertaken by the University of Western Australia's School of Indigenous Studies in partnership with the Telethon Kids Institute, would also help unravel some of the factors driving the rates.
“I believe that it is consequence of the history of colonisation, ongoing disadvantage and other inequities,” she said.
“It’s all coming out now. Services probably haven’t been able to provide good services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations. Certainly, there’s a lack of access to those services.”
Australian deaths by suicide (Data: Australian Bureau of Statistics)
Tom Calma, chair of the body that developed the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Strategy, welcomed the funding.
In a statement, Dr Calma – also a member of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Leadership in Mental Health – said the project will help draw a line under the “tragic situation”.
“This Project will provide hope that… our young people in particular can look forward to long and fulfilling lives as proud and strong members of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of this country,” he said.
Comment has been sought from Senator Nigel Scullion, Minister for Indigenous Affairs.
Suicide rates increasing
Australia Bureau of Statistics data also highlighted an increase in the number of suicides, from 2361 cases in 2010 to 2535 in 2012.
The rate of deaths due to suicide also rose, from 10.5 per 100,000 people in 2010 to 11 in 2012.
The data highlighted demographics of concern, including young men and rural residents.
In 2010, 24 per cent of male deaths aged 15 to 24 years were due to suicide, while it accounted for more than a quarter of deaths of men in the 20 to 24, 25 to 29 and 30 to 34 year age groups in 2012.
Data collected over the decade to 2010 showed significant differences in suicide rates between urban and rural areas, with the difference as large as 50 per cent in some states.
In Victoria, Melbourne recorded a suicide rate of 10 per 100,000 throughout 2001 to 2005, compared to 15.8 in rural areas.
Similarly, Brisbane recorded a rate of 11.5 suicide deaths per 100,000 people compared to 17.2 deaths in rural Queensland.
Anyone seeking support and information about suicide prevention is encouraged to contact: