Indigenous suicides “Australia’s worst crisis”

Professor Pat Dudgeon

Every third death among Australian indigenous people aged 15 to 35 years is registered as a suicide. “Suicide is a humanitarian crisis among Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples, however ever so little is being done by one government after another. In many ways our governments are making it worse,” a leading researcher in the field, Gerry Georgatos, has told a conference in Perthhosted by the University of Western AustraliaA female Aboriginal professor there, Pat Dudgeon, of the Bardi people of the Kimberley area in Western Australia, has used the approach of World Suicide Prevention Day to call for united action to reduce Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide rates, which remain among the highest in the world.


Prof. Dudgeon was the first Aboriginal psychologist to graduate in Australia and has made outstanding contributions to Indigenous psychology and higher education. Together with the Chancellor of the University of Canberra, Professor Tom Calma, also an Aborigine, Professor Dudgeon heads up the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project (ATSISPEP) based at the University of Western Australia.  


She noted that indigenous suicide rates are double those of non-Indigenous people, accounting for one in 19 deaths overall. "This is a national crisis and strong and immediate action is needed, such as a national inquiry," Professor Dudgeon said. Hear her in an interview here.


"However, an inquiry or royal commission should not pause or delay initiatives that are already in place, or are about to be put in place."


Professor Calma said that by the mid-1980s, 99 Aboriginal deaths in custody prompted a Royal Commission and that the current Indigenous suicides should prompt similar attention. "While some attention is being paid by governments, more needs to be done to address the determinants that
contribute to the psychological stressors that afflict Indigenous society," he said.


Professor Calma is urging the government to develop a multi-party platform to end decades of limited progress for indigenous affairs, particularly around high suicide rates. He says the government has been treading water on indigenous affairs, and that grassroots organisations
"getting steam up" and seeing results are then "cut off at the knees".


“For too long we as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been blamed for the inactivity and lack of progress when report after report, people after people tell the government “it’s not us, it’s you, the way you develop policy, the way you change policies and programs at the drop of a hat, the total inconsistency in your approach; that’s what’s causing the problems’,” Professor Calma is quoted.


“Until we can get confidence back up and people can see governments are genuine then we (won’t) see change.”


The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of the Kimberley, far north Queensland and the Northern Territory fare the worst, ATSISPEP community consultant, Gerry Georgatos, who’s of immigrant Greek extraction, told the conference.


“They endure among the world’s highest self-harm and suicide rates amid extreme poverty which is driving not only the increasing rates of self-harms and suicides but also the high arrest and incarceration rates,” he said. “At least one in 10 and up to one in six of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders has been to jail.


“The federal government should be rushing to prioritise this crisis above all else, a crisis that is shaming this nation. If this crisis is not abated, this maddening crisis is the starkest portrayal of a racist nation. There are no excuses to hide behind, no justifications, other than heartlessness,” Mr Georgatos wrote earlier.


Elder’s call to arms in bush:

“We need to develop leadership and empowerment through bringing back initiation rites (with a modern take) for country and culture and giving teenagers responsibilities and obligations.”


More reporting on the suicide crisis and other Aboriginal issues has been collated by WGAR News here.

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