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Health

Aboriginal Suicide Rates Have Hit Crisis Point and Prevention Isn't Working

A new report is calling for criminal justice funding to be redirected funding be redirected into mental health, drug, and alcohol services.
October 13, 2016, 12:00am

A new report from the University of Western Australia's Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project (ATSISPEP) says Aboriginal suicide rates across Australia are at a crisis point, and government policies are failing to address Indigenous mental health.

Delivered to Health Minister Sussan Ley as she chairs a roundtable on suicide prevention in Western Australia this week, the report is yet to be released publicly but has been obtained by the ABC. It urges the Federal Government to change its approach to mental health and suicide prevention policy, and to consider the situation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as a national priority.

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As the ABC reports, according to ATSISPEP most suicide prevention programs in Australia are failing. ATSISPEP calls for the establishment of a national suicide prevention plan which directly addresses Aboriginal deaths. At the core of the ATSISPEP recommendations is the assertion that Aboriginal leaders should be given increased control of mental health care within their communities, and that funding be redirected from the criminal justice system towards mental health, and drug and alcohol services.

More than 152 Aboriginal people have died by suicide in the past year. On Tuesday, a 37-year-old Aboriginal woman in the western Australian town of Kalgoorlie suicided in the same spot that teenager Elijah Doughty was killed by a motorist earlier in the year. The woman is believed to have been a family relation of Doughty's.

Unfortunately, the Aboriginal mental health crisis disproportionately affects young people—particularly young men. In September, a report by Mission Australia said that one in 10 Indigenous males rated their "happiness with life" at zero percent. That's compared with one in 100 non-Indigenous young people. Indigenous young people are about four times higher than those for non-Indigenous people of the same age.

For young Aboriginal people aged 15 to 35 years, suicide is the leading cause of death. The issue broke through into the public consciousness earlier this year, when a 10-year-old Indigenous girl suicided in remote Western Australia.

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On Monday, the Northern Territory's Lifeline office was forced to close due to lack of government funding—despite suicide rates in the Top End being the highest in the nation.

Speaking to VICE in September, founder and CEO of Black Rainbow—Australia's peak suicide prevention organisation for Indigenous LGBTI people—Dameyon Bonson pointed out many recent events reported in the media would prove mentally harmful to young Aboriginal people—including the Don Dale footage and Bill Leak's racist cartoon, published by The Australian.

"When they see themselves or their mates being shackled, hooded, and tear gassed in prison, and then they see their fathers ridiculed in a cartoon in a paper, why would they be happy?" Bonson said.

This week is National Mental Health Week. If you or anyone you love is in need of help, call Lifeline at 13 11 14

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