The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has released its 2015 Causes of Death data - which includes annual national suicide information.
Suicide was the fifth most common cause of death for those of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent. The figures showed there were 152 deaths by suicide, out of which 110 male and 42 female.
For NSW, Qld, SA, WA and NT, the standardised death rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (25.5 per 100,000) was twice the rate of non-Indigenous people (12.5 per 100,000).
“We’re looking at the highest rates in the last 10 years. In relation to indigenous Australian’s we’ve also had information of suicide rates from 2011 – 2015 and it paints a very mixed picture for Indigenous Australians,” he said.
“The younger you are as an Indigenous person, the much likelier you are to die from suicide than your non-Indigenous counterparts, however if you reach the age of 50 you’re less likely to die from suicide than non-Indigenous Australians.”
“So what this suggests is that when we’re looking at issues around Indigenous suicide and reducing those rates, a big effort needs to be made directly in relation to young people. I also think more work needs to be done understanding the extent to which clustering occurs in Indigenous communities as opposed to non-Indigenous communities.
In the five years from 2011 to 2015, intentional self-harm was the leading cause of death for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons between 15 and 34 years of age.
Dr Tom Calma has been actively involved in the formation of the Close the Gap for Indigenous Health Equality Campaign and the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples and he told NITV News that it isn’t about numbers it’s about people’s lives.
"What is scary is that there are girls that are below the age of fourteen that don’t feel there is anything to live for anymore and that there is no future. We need to help address this issue, that’s vital.”
“Each time a person loses their life to suicide it affects around 135 people directly, so it has a very big ripple effect. But for the first time in Australian history and from the general population, we have seen over 3000 people die from suicide in 2015. In fact it was 3027 people, but those numbers could go up based on coroner’s reports, which is actually a pretty common occurrence that there is a lag,” he said.
“Overall across the general population deaths by suicide rose, and deaths by suicide rose for the indigenous community, although these numbers are smaller in indigenous communities. It was actually a total of 152 that died from suicide last year, and those numbers are up from around 140 in the year before. But in population terms indigenous rates of suicide are double rates of the Australian population in general.”
The median age at death for suicide in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons over this period was 28.4 years, compared with 45.1 years in the non-Indigenous population.
Mr Heath says the solutions around preventing suicide are ones to be found within the Indigenous communities themselves.
It comes after the recent review by the National Mental Health Commission stressed the importance of suicide prevention.
“There’s a need to establish mental health and social awareness teams in Aboriginal community controlled services and these need to be linked to specialist Indigenous mental health services. There are many outstanding and highly capable and passionate Indigenous leaders like Pat Dudgeon and Professor Tom Calma, who are leading the charge to reduce suicide among Aboriginal people.”
In 2015, suicide was the leading cause of death for both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous children and young people aged between 5-17.
Over the 5 years from 2011 to 2015, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people accounted for more than a quarter of all suicide deaths in this age group (85 of the 317 deaths, 26.8%). The age-specific death rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people was 9.3 deaths per 100,000 persons, compared to 1.8 per 100,000 for non-Indigenous persons.
Founding CEO of Black Rainbow Dameyon Bonson says the statistics are telling us is what’s currently out there for preventing suicide is not working.
“We’re still seeing a high rate of non-Indigenous led suicide prevention measures and these stats should be sending a clear message in regards to how and who is going to be managing those. I am extremely hopeful that there are more Indigenous led programs to prevent suicide… Aboriginal people are not given the resources or handed the leadership to be able to respond in appropriate ways,” he said.
“Disappointingly from the data we don’t have the statistics to see how many LGBQTI people have died from suicide and without the data there’s no policy, without the policy, there’s no funding which means people don’t know how to respond to issues…
“Take racism and homophobia - when you combine those two forces it compounds the trauma, so Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples experience bullying in the worst form, with no other Indigenous LGBQTI suicide prevention measures in the country apart from what Black Rainbow is trying to achieve.”
The 2016 Dr Yunupingu Human Rights Award Recipient says Indigenous people need to lead suicide prevention measures in order for the statistics to change.
"If it is not Indigenous led they should not be given control or be given the money. You’re not going to see anything apart from another learning experience from a non-Indigenous person go wrong and we can’t afford the suicide numbers to keep rising."
Dr Calma says we need to look at what we can do to reduce these numbers and provide better help and support for those that need it.
“I think education needs to be one of those areas, we need better education for families so that they know how to identify the warning signs and help to relieve some of the pressures that our youth find themselves under,” he said.
“Sometimes these pressures come to children that are struggling because they have a disconnect from their culture. Maybe they can’t speak their language, maybe they don’t know their families heritage because of being a part of the stolen generation.”
What is scary is that there are girls that are below the age of fourteen that don’t feel there is anything to live for anymore and that there is no future. We need to help address this issue, that’s vital.”
If you need help please contact:
- Lifeline on 13 11 14
- Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
- MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
- Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
- Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36
- Headspace on 1800 650 890