Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People

 

Statistics Related To Aboriginal And Torres Strait Islander People

In recent years, suicide within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities has become an increasing problem.  Statistics[1] show that most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who die by suicide are under 29 and, in particular, suicidal rates for young Aboriginal males have increased significantly. 

 

The percentage of all deaths attributable to suicide is much higher among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people than non-Indigenous people. In 2010 suicides accounted for 4.2% of all registered deaths of people identified as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, compared with 1.6% for non-Indigenous.  The rate of lifetime prevalence estimates of self-injury is significantly higher in the Indigenous population than in non-Indigenous.[2]  In the period 2001 to 2010, 996 of the suicide deaths registered across Australia   were persons identified as being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin, and represented approximately 5% of all suicide deaths for this period. A comparison between Indigenous and non-Indigenous suicide rates is shown in the graph below for the period 2001 to 2010, with data for each age group totaled across the years.

 

 

Figure 3. Number of Indigenous and Non-Indigenous suicides, by gender, that occurred for each 100,000 population in age-specific groups during the 10 years 2001-2010. (Data includes figures for New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, the Northern Territory and Western Australia).

[Source: generated from (ABS 2012)1]

 

Far North Queensland has a very high representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.  In this region the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have historically been subjected to government legislation which has impacted on their social health and well-being, particularly in the area of suicide. Post-colonisation and low socio-economic status has led to frustration, alienation and anger, hopelessness, grief and lack of purpose. This, in so many cases, also links to heavy drinking, widespread use of drugs and other substances, substance misuse leading to mental health problems, imprisonment, and the upsurge of suicide rates[3]. The imitation phenomenon is frequently seen in this context. 

 

Issues that impact on community wellbeing in isolated communities are limited resources, low levels of continued care, a lack of rapport and maintenance of ongoing care because of service providers changing due to fly-in-fly out service provision.  Understanding appropriate means of addressing ‘women’s business’ and ‘men’s business’ are important factors that need to be considered.  If the local community health workers are also related to the people at risk, a wider support team needs to be established.

 

 

Self-Autonomy, Traditional Rights And Self-Harm/Suicide Reduction

Research is in its early stages regarding the link between self-autonomy, traditional rights and self-harm/suicide reduction.  In Indigenous communities, research needs to be by local people addressing their own needs in their own communities.  There are two examples that shed some light.

 

The first is the community of Yarrabah in Far North Queensland.   Yarrabah was founded as a mission in 1892.  Although the area of and surrounding  Yarrabah did and continues to have their own traditional owners, the Yarrabah community which evolved from then was not a natural grouping, but an artificial community created, as many Aboriginal people were removed  from traditional lands and relocated to Yarrabah  “…enemies often found themselves as neighbours.  The high population density within the main settlement increased social tensions and led to the introduction and a rapid rise in social problems such as excessive drinking and violence.”[4]  This contributed to a destabilisation of the family as an agent of social control.  With very high rates of suicide through the early 1990s, the people of Yarrabah themselves explored a range of approaches.  This involved setting up a community based suicide response capacity, creating resources locally, employing ‘life promotion officers’, developing men’s health groups and other relevant activities, which still exist and operate today. The suicides in this community reduced substantially.

 

The second striking example is from the experience in the Indigenous communities in British Columbia in Canada.   A very clear association has been demonstrated between suicide rates and the number of community services under local community control.[5]  The youth suicide rate was found to be lower in communities where these factors of cultural continuity were present than in communities where the factors were absent. See Figure 4.

 

 

Figure 4. Youth suicide rate in Indigenous communities in British Columbia, Canada in relation to the number of Community services under local community control.  Each community may have 0 – 6 of the above factors under community control.

 

 

Since the first part of the Canadian research was conducted resulting in the naming of the original six community factors, further research has identified two more cultural continuity factors.[6] These are (1) local control over child welfare services and (2) elected councils composed of more than 50 percent women. The presence of these factors in a community has also linked with lower youth suicide rates.

 

[1] Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2012).  Suicides, Australia, 2010 (Catalogue number 3309.0). Retrieved from http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Products/3309.0~2010~Chapter~Aboriginal+and+Torres+Strait+Islander+suicide+deaths?OpenDocument

[2] Martin, G., Swannell, S., Harrison, J., Hazell, P., & Taylor, A. (2010). The Australian National Epidemiological Study of Self-Injury (ANESSI).Brisbane, Australia: Centre for Suicide Prevention Studies.

[3] Hunter, E. (1997) An Overview of Indigenous Suicide. Australasian Psychiatry, 5(5), 231-232.

[4] [Craig, D. (1979) as cited in] Hunter, E., Reser, J., Baird, M., & Reser, P. (2001). An analysis of suicide in Indigenous Communities of North Queensland: The historical, cultural and symbolic landscape.  Canberra, Australia: Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care.

[5] Chandler, M. J., Lalonde, C. E., Sokol, B., & Hallett, D. (2003).Personal persistence, identity development, and suicide: A study of Native and non-Native North American adolescents. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 68(2), 1-130.   

[6] Chandler, M. J., Lalonde, C. E. (2008). Cultural continuity as a protective factor against suicide in First Nations youth. Horizons - A Special Issue on Aboriginal Youth, Hope or Heartbreak: Aboriginal Youth and Canada’s Future, 10(1), 68-72.

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[1] [Craig, D. (1979) as cited in] Hunter, E., Reser, J., Baird, M., & Reser, P. (2001). An analysis of suicide in Indigenous Communities of North Queensland: The historical, cultural and symbolic landscape.  Canberra, Australia: Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care.

[1] Chandler, M. J., Lalonde, C. E., Sokol, B., & Hallett, D. (2003).Personal persistence, identity development, and suicide: A study of Native and non-Native North American adolescents. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 68(2), 1-130.   

[1] Chandler, M. J., Lalonde, C. E. (2008). Cultural continuity as a protective factor against suicide in First Nations youth. Horizons - A Special Issue on Aboriginal Youth, Hope or Heartbreak: Aboriginal Youth and Canada’s Future, 10(1), 68-72.

 

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