Hundreds more First Nations young people will suicide if we wait for 2015

Reduce the extreme poverty and in addition send in a crack team of experts to identify trusted Elders and community leaders to work psychosocially with youth, families and communities to restore their right to hope. Fund this support, now ... it’s not rocket science.

Gerry Georgatos The Stringer 15 March 2014

How many more people must die? Whose child will be next? How many bodies do we have to climb over before there is any sense of urgency? According to the Chair of the Indigenous Advisory Council (IAC) Warren Mundine it will be 2015 before funds may be made available for suicide prevention – 200 suicides later.

In October, following months of sustained coverage by The National Indigenous Times, by The National Indigenous Radio Service and by The Stringer, following my research translated as journalism, Mr Mundine committed to adding the suicide crisis among First Nations peoples to the IAC’s mandate. This was a step in the right direction after one Government after another underfunded Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide prevention strategies. Every year the suicide rates have risen, taking the lives of children, youth and adults.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported 996 suicides of First Nations people between 2001 to 2010. My research estimates that it is closer to 2000 suicides when other unnatural deaths are taken into account. Between 1 in 12 to 1 in 24 of all First Nations deaths are by suicide. In the last three years I have estimated there have been another 400 suicides, a rise of 30 per cent per annum on the preceding ten years. By 2020 I estimate nearly every First Nations nuclear family will be touched by suicide.

In early February I was invited by the Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion, to travel with him and Mr Mundine over a couple of days to several remote WA towns. I spoke to them extensively of the suicide crisis. Mr Mundine has a good understanding of some of the psychosocial issues underwriting the crisis, and the correlation to extreme poverty and racism. Mr Mundine said to me that the IAC would meet on February 14 and 15, with the Prime Minister sitting in, and that during the two days of the meeting the suicide crisis would at long last be discussed. Two reports, one by psychologists, and another by psychiatrists would be tabled, and from the findings recommendations would be made to the Prime Minister.

But to my surprise, I learned from a source that the reports and the suicide crisis were discussed for less than an hour. People are suiciding among the world’s highest rates and yet an hour is all that was scheduled. This crisis should be priority on the national agenda.

How many more must die?

Apparently a couple of hundred more must be left to take their lives before any prospect of serious funding arises to address the crisis.

The National Indigenous Radio Service’s chief correspondent and editor, Michelle Tihuane asked several questions of the suicide crisis of Mr Mundine during a twenty minute interview.

“I do want to touch on the issue of suicide and self-harm, appalling, just terrible levels in our communities. Now I understand that Gerry Georgatos travelled with you and Minister Scullion last month and I am wondering, because he has forwarded both yourself and Minister Scullion some recommendations on where we can address the impacts of it in our communities. There are no conversations going on in the mainstream media that I am aware of in regards to the crisis,” said Ms Tihuane.

Mr Mundine responded, “And you are probably right. It is a major issue that we have to get through. And I see it as I have mentioned previously, that it is one of the central planks that I want to work on this year.”

“I spent the last few months you know talking to Gerry and getting recommendations from him but also talking to psychologists and psychiatric doctors and nurses to get my head around it. I am meeting currently, starting last week, with (Dr Patrick) McGorrie, the famous professor (in psychiatry), and we’re working through this process how we can target and how are we going to make these changes,” said Mr Mundine.

“One of the interesting things they’re telling me is that suicides are about kids who don’t see a future for themselves. If they don’t see a future why should they go to school when they don’t see a job. There is the breakdown of culture and community and there is this malaise occurring in communities where suicide is the only alternative they see.”

“We need to address this. And that’s one of the budgetary arguments I want to set up for 2015 – that we start looking at funds going into this area. For now we’re doing very badly, dragging the chain.”

“I think the whole Australian community, myself included, has a strange approach to mental health and suicides but we need a mature approach to it, have the conversations and then action what needs to be done.”

2015? Another year translates to 200 more suicides of men, women and children. And less than an hour’s conversation on a national tragedy – what a terrible indictment of the Australian nation. The IAC, with a sense of priority and urgency, must pursue funding now.

I also contacted Minister Scullion’s office.

“This is a critical issue,” said Minister Scullion.

“Absolutely fundamental to tackling this issue is ensuring that young people are engaged with education and with work. That’s why my focus on getting children to school and adults into work is vital to re-engaging with those people who have become disengaged from education, work, their family and communities.”

“My approach is to work with communities and allow them to determine the solutions that suit their particular circumstances. I want to ensure communities are supported through Government action that supports the approach of communities, rather than imposing a programme or programmes that are another one-size fits all.”

“The Government will certainly have more to say on this issue,” said Minister Scullion.

The National Indigenous Radio Service correspondent, Warren Barnsley asked several questions of Minister Scullion on the suicides crisis.

Minister Scullion said to Mr Barnsley that he expects the IAC to advise the Government in the near future. When is this near future?

Minister Scullion referred to the “two reports”.

“Obviously, these reports are very important considerations of both the effects of the tragedy of poverty and disconnection, as well as the addition of substances abuse, primarily alcohol and marijuana abuse.”

“We have an inordinate number of young people taking their lives, it’s been a growing challenge for all of us.”

“Hopefully the reports will throw some light on it. As I said, it is a matter for the Indigenous Advisory Committee. When we next meet, I expect the IAC will provide that advice to the Prime Minister on how to meet the levels of support required (for suicide prevention).”

Move it along fellas, it’s not rocket science, reduce the extreme poverty and in addition send in a crack team of experts to identify trusted Elders and community leaders to work psychosocially with youth, families and communities to restore their right to hope. Fund this support, now.

NIRS – Michelle Tihuane questions Warren Mundine on suicide crisis, here: