• Experts say the current approach on suicide prevention is not working. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
The Black Dog Institute calls for increased awareness of the Indigenous lived experience after new data reveals intentional self-harm as the fifth leading cause of death for Indigenous Australians.
Mikele Syron

27 Oct 2020 - 2:28 PM  UPDATED 27 Oct 2020 - 2:28 PM

Trigger Warning: this article discusses Indigenous suicide

New data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics has revealed that intentional self-harm is the fifth leading cause of death for Indigenous Australians.

The data also highlighted the alarming reality that suicide is the second leading cause of death for Indigenous males, with individuals aged between 15-24 years-old over four times more likely to commit suicide than non-Indigenous people in the same age bracket.

The data also revealed suicide was the leading cause of death for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged 5-17-years-old between 2015-2019.

Leilani Darwin, Head of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Lived Experience at the Black Dog Institute, told NITV News on Monday that Australia needs to put suicide prevention on the agenda as a priority, as well as being a self-identified priority in communities.

“Indigenous people are overrepresented in the worst ways," she said.

"The ongoing impacts of colonisation such as poor health outcomes, racism and discrimination, socioeconomic disadvantage and other stress points for communities mean that we must expand on our understanding about what is effective, and where there is room for improvement in communities.”

The Black Dog Institute has called for more to be done to address the growing suicide rates in Australia and urged the need for heightened awareness around the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lived experience.

Ms Darwin said that it is critical to listen to the stories behind those who have struggled themselves or been left behind by suicide.

“We need to hear from people with mental health issues to see where they’ve tried to get support and the issues and barriers they have come up against,” said Ms Darwin.

Director of the Black Dog Institute, Helen Christensen, told NITV News that the decade-long climb in self-harm rates amongst the entire Australian populace was exacerbated amongst the nation's Indigenous people.

Ms Christensen said that in order to address this, a tailored approach must be implemented to encompass more access to practicing culture as well as increased self-determination and recognition of social determinants such as exposure to racism, poverty, education levels and other disparities with broader Australia.

“This is all extremely important to the wellbeing of Australia’s Indigenous population," she said.

“What is imperative for success in suicide prevention is real-time data – self harm and suicide data, so we can respond quickly and reverse trends.

"If we know where trends are starting, in real-time, we can implement our evidence-based programs and mobilise communities on the ground.” 

Ms Darwin said that access to Country to practice culture as well as connection to Country, community and family is crucial to the wellbeing of Indigenous people living in communities.

“Communities have their finger on the pulse, they know what is happening and what needs to be improved. Lived experience needs to be included and elevated in how we implement programs on the ground, as well as in broader mental health reforms, to see improved outcomes," said Ms Darwin.

"The missing step is engaging with people who are eating, sleeping, living, breathing in these communities around where the most support is needed."

- 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.

New suicide statistics 'paint a bleak picture'
With one-in-20 deaths being by suicide in Indigenous communities, compared to one-in-50 in the wider population, experts say different approaches are urgently needed.