• A new report has revealed Indigenous Victorians are dying by suicide at twice the rate of non-Indigenous Victorians. (AAP)Source: AAP
The Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation is calling for an inquiry after a report revealed Indigenous deaths by suicide are occurring at twice the rate of non-Indigenous suicides in the state.
Keira Jenkins

30 Jun 2020 - 6:30 PM  UPDATED 30 Jun 2020 - 6:30 PM

The Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) has called for an independent inquiry into Aboriginal suicide in the state, following the release of a shocking report by the Coroners Court of Victoria.

The report showed Indigenous Victorians are dying from suicide at twice the rate of non-Aboriginal people in the state. 

The report revealed 117 Indigenous Victorians had died by suicide between January 2009 and April 2020. In total, there were 7067 deaths by suicide in the state in the same period.

This means Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Victorians made up 1.6 per cent of deaths by suicide, while being 0.8 per cent of the population.

The report also shows a spike in Indigenous deaths by suicide in 2018-19, but the authors said it was not clear if the rise could be attributed to increased identification.

VACCHO CEO Jill Gallagher said urgent talks with government and an independent inquiry into the number of suicides are needed.

“We can’t allow this silent tragedy to continue anymore," she said in a statement.

"We know our families and communities are hurting. This is a failure of the system once again.

"The evidence is beyond dispute. It’s unacceptable and time to act."

Ms Gallagher said the higher suicide rates among Victoria's Indigenous population were consistent with national trends.

'Need urgent answers'

“Any life lost to suicide is a human tragedy and our hearts go out to all Victorian families and communities affected," Ms Gallagher said.

"There is a shocking and disproportionate level of suicide between Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples compared to the broader Australian population.

"We need urgent answers. Solutions focused on family healing, prevention and postvention supports."

Sixty-two per cent of Indigenous people who died by suicide had been diagnosed with mental illness. Fifty-five per cent of non-Indigenous Victorians who died by suicide were diagnosed with mental illness.

Two thirds of suicides for Indigenous women occurred within the 18-34 age group, in contrast to the wider Victorian population, where women were more at risk of suicide in their late 30s to 40s.

Substance abuse and contact with the justice system were linked to suicides among Indigenous people at double the rate of non-Indigenous Victorians, with 82 per cent of Indigenous people experiencing substance abuse, compared to 47 per cent of the wider Victorian population.

Abuse, family violence, legal issues and bullying were also correlated with Indigenous suicides at about twice the rate of non-Indigenous suicides, with 36 per cent experiencing family violence, two thirds of Indigenous people experiencing abuse and a quarter experiencing bulling before their death. 

This compared to 16 per cent of non-Indigenous Victorians experiencing family violence, 33 per cent who had experienced abuse and 12 per cent who had experienced bullying.

Indigenous people who died by suicide were more likely to be impacted by other stressors, except for work and financial, than non-Indigenous Victorians, and more likely to be experiencing multiple stressors at one time.

Sixty per cent of Indigenous suicides occurred in regional areas, despite only half of the Indigenous population in Victoria living in regional areas.

Ms Gallagher said to address the high suicide rates, all these factors must be addressed.

“Improving clinical services and responses remains critical, but our responses must go much deeper," she said.

"We know that Aboriginal youth suicide especially is not solely a mental health issue – it is an outcome of complex interrelated factors that are rooted in intergenerational trauma."

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact: Lifeline on 13 11 14, the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 or find an Aboriginal Medical Service here. There are resources for young people at Headspace Yarn Safe.