Te Mauri - Pimatisiwin

The context and causes of the suicide of Indigenous people in Australia

Pat Dudgeon, Tom Calma, Christopher Holland

Abstract

When comparing suicide in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (Indigenous) population to that in the non-Indigenous populations of Australia, there are significant differences in the rates of suicide and the age groups at risk of suicide. The etiology of these differences includes a history of colonisation and its aftermath including a burden of intergenerational trauma in the Indigenous population. It also includes contemporary disadvantage and discrimination. These not only impact on Indigenous family and community life but also on potential sources of social and emotional wellbeing and resilience that help protect Indigenous individuals against suicide. They also result in the greater exposure of Indigenous families and individuals to trauma, and other risk factors associated with suicide. Further, they underpin those families and individual’s lower access to culturally appropriate mental health and suicide prevention services and programs. Although there is a degree of commonality between the specific causes associated with the suicide of Indigenous and non-Indigenous individuals, the burden and the accumulation of underlying trauma, risk factors and specific causes in the case of Indigenous individuals results in higher rates of suicide. The increasing Indigenous suicide rate suggests that the overall current approach to Indigenous suicide prevention is not working. Innovative Indigenous community-led, strengths based approaches should be supported in the context of a different national approach. This includes, in addition to targeted responses to Indigenous individuals and population groups at risk of suicide, empowering communities to address their challenges, including those associated with suicide. It includes empowering communities to heal intergenerational trauma at the individual, family, community-level. It includes strengthening culture and sources of resilience to protect against suicide at the community level.

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