Australia’s Lost Generation: Battling Aboriginal Suicide

Young Aborigines are four times more likely to commit suicide than non-indigenous Australians. Experts and Aboriginal elders believe a variety of reasons drive Aboriginal youth to suicide, including a disconnection from traditional culture and land.

In 2012, 101 East travelled to Western Australia’s Kimberley region to find out what was behind the abnormally high suicide rates there. Numbers were the highest among Australia’s Aboriginal youth.

Many new programmes were created to stem the tide. Communities were setting up different projects trying to help the youth reconnect with their roots, their land and culture.

Dr Pat Dudgeon, Australia’s leading Aboriginal mental-health practitioner, is from the Kimberley region herself, and in 2012, she started Australia’s first national suicide prevention strategy that targets Aboriginals specifically.

Six years on, REWIND speaks to Dudgeon about the effect of these community initiatives and the plight of Australia’s Aboriginal youth.

According to Dudgeon, “there is a whole range of issues facing them (indigenous youth) and not just us in Australia, [but] also for other indigenous people of settler countries such as New Zealand, Canada and the United States, where recovery from colonisation is a very important issue.”

“What we do is to enable people to become empowered, to control their own destinies, to control their own resources, to decide what the problem is and – with given the right information – to decide what the solution is.”

In 2012, when the documentary was made, the word “epidemic” was used to describe high Aboriginal suicide rates in Western Australia. Six years later, the levels are still high, some reports say close to 100 times the national average.

“Sometimes, these figures have been a tad sensationalised. However, suicide rates do remain very high with still twice the national average. It’s the fifth-leading cause of death in some age groups … When you are having high suicide rates, something is going terribly wrong,” she says.

Dudgeon believes that there is an affinity with other countries around the world, “because they were indigenous people in those countries, those countries were taken over and most times very brutally, so we had processes of colonisation as genocides, being removed of country, put into reserves, missions, residential schools and then having a life dictated to forced legislation.”

“So, there is a history to all the countries that’s about people losing their rights, losing their countries and losing their human rights, which needs recovery,” she says. “Certainly in Australia, there was a denial of that process of history that’s now starting to change around.”

“Our then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s apology to the stolen generations was one of those really historical moments where there was an acknowledgement of the harm done and a genuine apology given for that harm.

“So, I think that we as a nation can start healing when there’s ownership and when there is truth and honesty between groups.”