Inquest into 13 Aboriginal youth suicides

Suicides by young Aboriginal people in WA's far north, including a 10-year-old girl at a remote community, have reached disturbing proportions.

The suicide of a 10-year-old girl at a remote Aboriginal community in WA's far north came three years after her sister took her own life, an inquest has heard.

The deaths are among 13 suicides involving young indigenous people in the Kimberley region between November 2012 and March last year that are being examined at an inquest, which began in Perth on Monday.

The inquest heard there was no explanation for why the young girl made such a tragic decision at the Looma community, where she was living in foster care.

Her 13-year-old sister had taken her own life three years and two months earlier.

Days before the teenager's death, she indicated she had suicidal intentions to a senior community figure, who told her to "cheer up" and not do anything silly.

On the day of her death, she was hit by a relative with a stick after an argument and was last seen walking away in tears.

Like many of the deceased, she had been exposed to alcohol abuse and domestic violence and did not have any contact with mental health or counselling services.

The inquest will also touch on the suicides of two 12-year-olds and a 13-year-old boy, which counsel assisting the coroner Philip Urquhart said was heartbreaking.

It was unacceptable youth suicide in indigenous communities had reached such disturbing proportions in a developed nation, he said.

There had been more than 700 recommendations and actions arising from 40 inquiries into Aboriginal youth suicide and related factors, such as family violence and child abuse, over the past 14 years and yet the problem remained.

Mr Urquhart suggested a radical change in approach was needed.

"Why has it got to this?" he asked.

"Is it because the recommendations from the past have been implemented and are not working? Is it because recommendations haven't been implemented? If that is so, is it because of a lack of resources? Or a lack of motivation by governments?

"If there ever was a time for change, it is now."

The first stage of the inquest will hear from Dr James Fitzpatrick, who believes there is a strong link between foetal alcohol spectrum disorder and suicide, as its sufferers behave impulsively.

The inquest will also hear how Aboriginal communities experience extremely high levels of bereavement stress and has already touched on the tragic death of a 23-year-old man who had lost five family members in five years before he took his own life.

"Imitation and what is called contagion can be contributors to Aboriginal youth suicide," Mr Urquhart said.

Bardi woman Patricia Dudgeon, a psychologist and indigenous studies academic, said forced removals from families and communities, paternalism, the belated recognition of Aboriginal people as citizens, poverty and ongoing racism had all affected indigenous wellbeing.

There were no simple solutions, she said.

"If you treat people as second-rate citizens and you knock the stuffing out of them for generations and generations, there will be consequences," Professor Dudgeon said.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.

MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78.

Local Aboriginal Medical Service available from

Source AAP

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