Suicide Prevention and Capacity Building in Australian Indigenous Communities

1 September 2010
While the prevalence of suicide in Indigenous communities has been shown to be significantly higher than that of non-Indigenous populations, Indigenous understandings and definitions of suicide and self-harming behaviours remain under-researched, undervalued and under-utilised. What is known is that the risk of suicide and self-harm among Indigenous communities is complicated and compounded by complex (trans)generational transmissions of violence, trauma, grief, (de)colonisation, racism and loss. The effects of these are known to greatly contribute to sociocultural and economic problems and conditions, which in turn place Indigenous individuals at greater risk of suicide and self-harm. Suicide in traditional Indigenous communities has emerged as a priority issue of public concern only in recent decades. Although the collection of reliable suicide statistics remains problematic, available evidence suggests that the rate of suicide among Indigenous people is much higher than non-indigenous Australians. Suicide accounted for 4.2% of all external causes of death for Indigenous people in 2008 (Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2010). Suicide Prevention Australia recognises that strategies aimed at reducing the rate of suicide among Indigenous communities must be culturally based to recognise and support the differences between Indigenous groups. They must also embrace genuine consultation with the groups for which they are intended, rather than indiscriminately adapting non-Indigenous models of suicide prevention. The role and potential of community-based, family-centred care giving and ‘self-determination’ as a protective factor must not be underestimated in this.