The Aboriginal Health Council of WA has called for greater focus on local, culturally appropriate suicide prevention programs for West Australian youth, as new statistics reveal indigenous Australians are twice as likely to take their own lives.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics Causes of Death 2016 report, released yesterday, showed 2866 people died as a result of suicide last year. Of those, 162 were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, with the figure slightly up on the 152 intentional deaths recorded in 2015.
The ABS data shows the standardised death rate for indigenous Australians was 23.8 per 100,000, more than twice the non-indigenous rate of 11.4 per 100,000.
Suicide was the fifth leading cause of death for indigenous Australians, compared to the 15th for non-indigenous Australians, with suicide deaths accounting for a greater proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths (5.5%), compared to non-indigenous Australians (1.7%).
AHCWA chairperson Michelle Nelson-Cox said it was an “absolute tragedy” that intentional self-harm was one of the leading causes of death among young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
“Sadly, suicide was the leading cause of death for both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-indigenous children and young people aged between five and 17 years of age, as well as young indigenous Australians aged between 15 and 34 years,” Ms Nelson-Cox said.
“These statistics are a social tragedy. The death of even one of our young people to suicide is not acceptable.
“AHCWA believes that there must be a greater focus on increasing and improving access to culturally appropriate and locally responsive suicide prevention programs for Aboriginal youth in WA – and it must be done as a matter of urgency.”
Ms Nelson-Cox said AHCWA was committed to investing in future generations to help support young indigenous Australians at risk of suicide.
Last week, the Carnarvon Medical Services Aboriginal Corporation hosted a series of mental health and suicide prevention events with former rugby league star turned professional boxer Joe Williams, who uses his sporting career to speak about his mental health experiences.
“During his visit to Carnarvon, Joe Williams ran workshops with young people, delivered motivational talks to local school students and addressed the Carnarvon Suicide Prevention Network,” Ms Nelson-Cox said.
“These are the sort of events that will have an impact with our youth and give them the strength and courage to seek help and support to improve their mental health.
“We will continue to advocate for more of these locally-driven events to help raise awareness about mental health and the risk of suicide amongst Aboriginal youth. High profile athletes sharing their experiences provide good role modelling for our young people and can hel
p break the stigma of mental illness in our community.”
In addition, AHCWA’s Aboriginal Youth Program Coordinator was recently trained to deliver Youth Mental Health First Aid, which will be delivered to Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services across the State.
AHCWA is the peak body for Aboriginal health in WA, with 22 Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHS) currently engaged as members.
If you or someone you know needs urgent support contact Lifeline on 131 114, Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 or the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.