Aboriginal children as young as nine killing themselves in Australia

Rosalie Kunoth-Monks

Youth worker Noeletta McKenzie has had despairing teens on her Northern Territory veranda holding nooses in their hands, contemplating taking their own lives. But she says it has been almost four years since the remote top end community of Maningrida has had a youth suicide. The statistics are appalling, and bear repeating: the national Australian suicide average is 10.6 people per 100,000, but it is six times that figure for indigenous people in the NT, and 70 people per 100,000 in the Kimberley and Far North Queensland. In some communities, indigenous people are taking their lives at more than eight times the national average, including children as young as nine.


Recently the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project (ATSISPEP) held a round-table talk in Darwin with more than 40 NT service providers to hear about successful grassroots programs that were slowing suicide rates.

McKenzie, who manages the GREATS Youth Centre (GYS) at Maningrida, says about 75 young people come through the doors each night. The largest community in Arnhem Land, Maningrida is home to about 3500 people, half of them under 25.

"Suicide comes in waves; we haven't had a youth suicide in nearly four years," she told Australian Associated Press.

"I guess that comes down to our youth centre operating: we have specialty programs (like sex education), back to country stuff: elders are involved in young women's and young men's programs engaging kids on country." She said every remote community needed a locally-run youth centre.

Under the Indigenous Advancement Strategy funding recently unveiled, GYS was allocated $70,000 instead of the $850,000 they were expecting.

ATSISPEP community consultant Gerry Georgatos said low social health was the largest contributor to indigenous suicide. Georgatos said many indigenous people had been pushed by a lack of services to relocate to "sub-Saharan poverty" in satellite shanty towns around regional centres. Such displacement caused major psycho-social harm.

Prominent female Elder, Rosalie Kunoth-Monks said the last suicide in her community in the Utopia region of central Australia was by a man in his 30s last year.

"I think the main message in him taking his life was 'if we are to lose our identity, our land, and our ceremonial rites, life is not worth living'. That shook a lot of us because I think we were living in a fool's paradise that nobody could penetrate," she said. Kunoth-Monks said a hidden assimilation agenda was driving suicides.

"The assimilation process so far has failed to the extent that people are taking their own lives because they've been made to feel second-class, they've been made to feel less of a human being than the rest of the Australians."

She says Aboriginal people in remote communities need to be placed front and centre in developing strategies to fight suicide.

"Enough is enough: give us back our responsibility and I guarantee within a decade we will have brilliant black Australians accessing whatever they want to access, not only within Australia but throughout the world." 

  • Suicide is the leading cause of death for young Aboriginal people aged under 35 

  • The NT has a higher suicide rate of indigenous people than any other Australian jurisdiction 

  • The NT and WA have some of the highest median wages in the world but also some of the highest rates of poverty 

  • One in 20 indigenous people die by suicide but it is believed it is under-reported and that the rate is actually double that, at one in 10


Mr Georgatos, speaking earlier on the suicide crises at a University of South Australia forum called it “one of the most pressing issues of our times”.  

“There should be just as much focus on suicide prevention as there is with trying to prevent homicides and domestic violence. All lives matter. There is no greater legacy that any Government can have than in the saving of lives. During the last ten years Australian homicide rates have been decreasing though tragically the number of women murdered by a current or former partner has been increasing. Domestic violence takes a life every eight days and many are calling it a national crisis. Every death is a tragedy. Suicide takes seven lives each day.

“Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australian teenagers aged 14 to 18 years.

“Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples die by suicide at horrific rates – from a racialised lens among the world’s highest rates. Officially, one in 20 of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander deaths are reported as suicide. This is horrific, a humanitarian crisis, but effectively little spoken about. My research estimates that the suicide rate is higher than one in 20. There are under-reporting issues. I estimate that the suicide death rate is closer to one in 10.”

On CAAMA Aboriginal radio in Alice Springs you can hear an interview with Mr Georgatos.


If Australia’s indigenous people were ranked separately on the World Health Organization’s suicide ranking, they would be the 2nd worst in the world, with 42 suicides per 100,000 people per year – just below Guyana, a country with 0.5% of Australia’s GDP.


In some regions of Australia (Northern Territory, the Kimberley & far north Queensland), the rate of suicide in indigenous people is above 70 per 100,000 per year.

The United Nations Development Program Human Development Index (UNDPHDI) ranks Australia 2nd behind Norway in the world for rates of public health, social wealth, education and happiness. However when separated from these statistics Mr Georgatos finds Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population rank 132nd. “That's racialised, that's racism," he says.


“The real solution to reducing the suicides and community distress is in social health,” Mr Georgatos says, “in an equivalency of services and infrastructure in these communities, not in degrading them further".

One such recommendation is the creation of an evaluation tool to identify which efforts are working and which aren’t. Mr Georgatos says that the only thing that is fervently evaluated is the money spent on, rather than the efficacy, of suicide prevention programs.

An Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory is calling for increased funding for health programs and services.

AMSANT provide crucial mental health programs for First Nations mob, which they say must be long-term services in order to be effective.

A recent report on Indigenous health and welfare highlighted suicide as accounting for 1 in 10 deaths of children under the age of 14.

WGAR Background to Suicide and Self-harm in First Nations Communities
(last updated: 16 July 2015)


WGAR Background: Intervention into Northern Territory (NT) Aboriginal communities by the Federal government