• Experts say the current approach on suicide prevention is not working. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
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.
Rangi Hirini

4 Oct 2018 - 1:38 PM  UPDATED 4 Oct 2018 - 1:49 PM

New figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) show suicide has increased by 21 per cent in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community over the past decade. 

Professor Pat Dudgeon from the University of Western Australia's Poche Centre for Indigenous Health and School of Indigenous Studies called the new figures unacceptable. 

“The statistics paint a bleak picture… they’re showing what's happening to some of our communities, work needs to be done to change those statistics around,” she told NITV News.

“Increased suicide rates are a result of many years of government inaction or limited action, so I think we’re starting to see the manifestation of things that haven’t gone right in the past.”

The ABS statistics show First Nations men are most at risk of taking their own lives, with 75 per cent of all Indigenous suicide deaths men. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in Indigenous men.

Young people in the Indigenous community are also at higher risk than their non-Indigenous counterparts, with 40 per cent of child deaths (in the five-to-17 age group) being suicide.

Ninety-four per cent of youth suicide is in the 15-to-17 age bracket, and the rate of suicide among Indigenous youth is three-times that of non-Indigenous Australians. 

Professor Dudgeon says she think there are a number of reasons why young people are taking their lives.

“Something is happening with our young people where they don’t see a future, they don’t feel empowered, they seek that they are treated as second class citizens,” she said.

“I think we need to work hard to turn that around to give them a sense of purpose in their own lives, to help them come to that, and to give them respect and value them.” 

Dameyon Bonson is a Mangarayi and Torres Strait Islander man who is based in the Northern Territory. He has worked for several years on the front-line in suicide prevention in regional and remote communities, including with Black Rainbow. 

"The rate that has been steadily going up is evidence that what has been funded isn’t working."

He told NITV News that he was not surprised by the new figures. 

“I’m yet to see any evidence of what is being funded actually reduce the suicide rates. The rate that has been steadily going up is evidence that what has been funded isn’t working," he said. 

Mr Bonson says to address the increase in youth suicide we need to listen to the young people.

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“What’s missing is that we’re not sitting down as adults and shutting up and listening to our young people talk about suicide. We’re not giving them an opportunity to tell us what’s going on, and I think that’s what we need to be doing,” he said. 

“There’s so much policing and cotton wooling around this with young people and they are killing themselves at rates that aren’t going down.

"We need to be listening to them and listening to their friends and what’s happening in their world… It comes down to the context and the environment.” 

Professor Dudgeon is calling for more funding and more involvement of the First Nations community to combat suicide. 

“Any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander services need to involve Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people from the get go,” she said. 

“What we’ve seen is years of solutions being helicoptered into Aboriginal communities, they don’t always work, where there’s been a lack of engagement with local community and people themselves.”

Suicide is the fifth leading cause of death in the Indigenous community. 

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact: Lifeline on 13 11 14, young people can contact Headspace Yarn Safe, or find an Aboriginal Medical Service here.

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