Australia’s Aboriginal communities are plagued with concern for their young people after it was revealed that the Kimberley’s experience the highest Indigenous youth suicide rates not only in Australia, but in the world.
Forty young people committed suicide in the Kimberley region last year – six from one community that has a population of under 300. The Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Culture Centre (KALACC) is calling for State and Federal governments to focus on Indigenous youth suicide Australia wide. Aboriginal youths are more than twice as likely to commit suicide than non-indigenous young people – a figure that is alarming and devastating. Between 2001-2010, the highest number of fatalities from suicide was from the 15-30 year old age bracket. These disturbing results also demonstrated that Indigenous males aged 15-19 were almost five times more likely to commit suicide than non-indigenous males of the same age. With despair and hopelessness spreading between the small towns due to high unemployment rates, lack of housing infrastructure and displacement of children from their homes, despondency and dejection are felt across Indigenous communities: “children are feeling hopeless because they think they have no future, and adults are feeling hopeless because they feel like they can’t help to provide that future” said Toby Finlayson, co-founder of Desert Pea media – a music and arts program that works with disadvantaged Indigenous youths in remote communities.
This revelation is indicative of a much bigger social problem. Health care centers, prevention measures and postvention measures have been introduced in Aboriginal communities but Indigenous people are still apprehensive about utilising them. Maureen Bates-McKay an Aboriginal lawyer in the Central West believes that health care and government services needs to be more culturally appropriate “the Headspace service does the best that it can, but this is not exactly appropriate for young Aboriginal people. Look at Bathurst, there is no Aboriginal person at the front desk let alone a worker specialising in this field!” Bates-McKay believes that in order for these services to be of use to young Indigenous people, government’s need to fix the infrastructure that is already funded rather than throwing more money at the problem and expecting it to go away. “We need good young Aboriginal workers on the ground in communities working closely with Aboriginal young people with mental health issues. This should be done through quality traineeships with good mentors and support throughout their training. There is an abundance of mental health workers and high-paid professionals at the top of bureaucracies, all very top level. We need to ask, what are they delivering in relation to mental health care, realistic outcomes and a hands on approach in the delivery of mental health to Indigenous young people?”
A new strategy to combat Indigenous youth suicide is expected to be released in February 2014. In the mean time, local and state governments need to work cohesively to implement community involvement and projects to help combat mental-illness in Indigenous communities.