The death rate among Indigenous children in Queensland is double that of non-Indigenous children in the same age group, according to a report by the Queensland government.
The report, published by the Commission for Children and Young People and Child Guardian, also says aborigines in the state make up half the number of child suicides between the ages of 10 and 14 years.
It also says suicide rates among Indigenous children and teens in Queensland are five times higher than non-Indigenous boys and girls of the same age group.
These statistics shed a light on very real problems within Indigenous communities in Queensland.
“I saw a lot of friends that suicided. I saw a lot of depression in my community. It happened in my own family. It’s a destroyer. Depression is a destroyer,” says Cleavon Davis. He’s a suicide prevention co-ordinator at Gallang Place, an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander counselling service in Brisbane.
Suicide has deep roots in indigenous communities in Queensland, and tragically, it’s the leading cause of death for Aboriginal children aged 10-14 and the second highest for teenagers aged 15 to 17.
A multi-faceted problem
Selwyn Button, the CEO of Queensland Aboriginal and Islander Health Council says there are many factors that could lead to higher suicide rates in the Aboriginal community.
“Poverty, disadvantage, lack of aspiration, lack of education, engagement in schooling and other activities. Those things do already exist and those things are having a big impact on what goes on in the communities.”
Cleavon Davis says the struggle with social identity is a unique problem to the Indigenous community.
“Do we believe that we have a future or not, some don’t believe and that’s where it takes them – it takes them to the end of the road and that’s where they complete because they think they have no future because of rejection in the community, lack of education, lack of health, lack of money to help,” he told SBS.
“It’s a destroyer. Depression is a destroyer.”
The impact of suicide in Aboriginal communities is much deeper than the affected family. Mr Davis says the whole community mourns together.
Trail of devastation
“Suicide leaves a trail of devastation for a community. It affects the community – it doesn’t just affect the family. Within the community itself, maybe in a rural or remote community, it’s the whole community that’s suffering, that’s mourning throughout that period.”
The communal nature of Indigenous communities also manifests itself in the way that the young people within them influence each other.
Selwyn Button says there is a toxic environment in some Aboriginal communities that can lead to copycat suicides.
“When one young person makes the choice to commit suicide and to take their own life, who have been in a social circle with a number of young people who are also from disadvantaged backgrounds, and also in the same circumstances, those young people then think it’s okay because our friend has chosen to do this, so it’s okay for us to make the choice as well.”
While Aboriginal children and teens struggle with their cultural identity, they also have to deal with the social pressures shared by all Australian kids and teens.
Mr Button says a lot of this plays out online.
“Some of the biggest things that we’re seeing across communities in Queensland is the impact of social media,” he says. “Certainly what’s happening in terms of bullying and harassment and a lot of the stuff that goes on where people are using social media to focus attention on individuals and using that as a means to certainly intimidate people.”
“It’s the whole community that’s suffering, that’s mourning throughout that period.”
CEO of the not-for-profit Beyond Blue, Kate Carnell, says cyber bullying is becoming increasingly prevalent in Australia.
“A few years ago we did some work and it suggested that one in 10 young people had been cyber bullied in the previous two or three weeks but other figures are now suggesting that it may be as many as one in five,” she says.
“So this is very common and the impact of cyber bullying is quite significant. It really does cause significant stress which of course can lead to depression, anxiety and in some cases even suicide.”
Need for culturally appropriate support
Cleavon Davis says there is a lack of resources and support specifically for Aboriginal children and teens to access when they are dealing with mental health issues.
Beyond gaining the necessary support, he says young members of indigenous communities need to find coping mechanisms in order to reinstate their confidence.
“Getting the young fellas to engage in cultural activities, putting culture in the schools as well. Having the culture to come along that’s a part of us, to learn, to be involved to participate in it can help that person to be more productive in wanting to learn and wanting to be more stable in their lives.”
Anyone experiencing feelings of anxiety or depression should call:
Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
Lifeline on 13 11 14
MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467