MAINSTREAM suicide-prevention organisations and major charities are failing to stem the tide of a rising epidemic of indigenous suicide, sparking criticism from Aboriginal health workers that local groups are isolated from funding and service delivery.
The national peak organisation Suicide Prevention Australia has defended the fact that it does not have a single Aboriginal representative on its board, even though some of the nation’s remote regions have the highest suicide rates in the world.
The national rate is falling, a gain that reflects the sustained efforts of health-prevention initiatives.
But at the same time the rate of indigenous suicide has risen to alarming levels.
Yet the nation’s major charities that are granted millions of dollars in public funds are accused of directing too little to indigenous-suicide prevention and instead pairing with professional activists such as GetUp! to raise funds for indigenous programs in competition with Aboriginal campaigns.
The Weekend Australian revealed on Saturday that the indigenous suicide rate in the Kimberley is the highest in the world, when referenced against World Health Organisation figures, at 70 deaths per 100,000. The latest analysis by researchers indicates as many as one in 12 indigenous people die by suicide.
“It’s not a pandemic yet but if you’ve got suicide rates of one in 12 that indicates that we have a crisis in my books,” said Aboriginal professor Marcia Langton.
“The solutions to suicide have long been identified by responsible leaders in Aboriginal communities across Australia.”
The recent suicide of 11-year Peter Little triggered harsh criticism of the WA government which is accused of failing to respond adequately to the crisis.
Professor Langton said indigenous-controlled initiatives were best-placed to stem the crisis.
“An unknown quantum — it must be in the hundreds of millions of dollars — from the indigenous-specific commonwealth and state budgets go to NGOs and church organisations to deliver services,” she said.
“I’m finding it difficult to think of one that intervenes effectively, especially in this area of child suicide.
“And Aboriginal organisations that have responsibility to convert the coroners’ reports into the many child suicides, now scores of child suicides, into effective policies and program implementation plans are unable to do so because they are not funded adequately and sustainably.”
A spokesman for the Black Dog Institute, which is raising funds via GetUp! for a suicide prevention app called iBobbly, said as a research institute and clinical provider, the majority of its income was tied exclusively to tightly-controlled research grants.
Adele Cox, a consultant on the newly formed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project, says suicide victims are now younger than ever. “Suicide no longer discriminates in terms of age,” she said.
Suicide Prevention Australia chief executive Sue Murray said the body drew on the expertise of its adviser Tom Calma AO, a former social justice commissioner, on indigenous issues. “We’re acutely aware that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities need to be represented,” Ms Murray said.
This article first appeared on ‘The Australian’ on 10 November 2014.