There is no greater legacy one can have than to improve the lot of others

Centre For Trauma Recovery & Healing

Recovery is an instinctive primary goal for people who have experienced trauma. Not everyone who experiences a traumatic experience is scarred by it but many people are affected. Recovery often needs support – people can validate people. People can strengthen people and assist in the recovery and healing process. Recovery may need to include families, community and the care providers. Trauma and depression are disconnective disorders and in general cannot be healed in isolation. In general people need to connect to others in order to recover and heal.

Recovery and healing does not necessarily mean that the trauma will be forgotten but that it will be contextualised.

Recovery and healing are grounded in various fundamentals but recovery and healing are an individual experience. Fundamentally, recovery and healing allow for one to live in the present without being overwhelmed by past experiences.

Human beings have great capacity for recovery, healing and consequent growth.


By Gerry Georgatos
November 29th, 2015


There is nothing as profoundly powerful as forgiveness. The forgiving of others validates self-worth, builds bridges and positive futures. Forgiveness cultivated and understood keeps families and society solid as opposed to the corrosive anger that diminishes people into the darkest places, into effectively being mentally unwell. Anger is a warning sign to becoming unwell. Love comes more natural to the human heart despite that hate can take one over. In the battle between love and hate, one will choose love more easily when in understanding of the endless dark place that is hate and of its corrosive impacts. Hate can never achieve what love ever so easily can. Hate and anger have filled our prisons with the mentally unwell, with the most vulnerable, with the poor – and not with the criminally minded.

I have worked to turn around the lives of as many people in jail as I possibly could but for every inmate or former inmate that people like me dedicate time to in order to improve their lot – ultimately there is a tsunami of poverty related issues and draconian laws that flood offenders and fill prisons. Jailing the poorest, most vulnerable, the mentally unwell, in my experience, only serves to elevate the risk of reoffending, of normalising disordered and broken lives, of digging deeper divides between people, of marginalising people. It has been my experience that in general people come out of prison worse than they went in.

We push maxims such as violence breeds violence, hate breeds hate but yet we incarcerate and punish like never before. Instead of prison sentences working as some sort of deterrent we have reoffending, arrest and jailing rates increasing year in year out. One of society’s failures is the punitive criminal justice system and the penal estate. However despite the punitive penal estate having clearly failed society, we continue with it. For some it has become easier to lie and act as if the failure is a success or as if there are no alternatives than to accept the workload in another direction. Fyodor Dostoyevsky, in the Brothers Karamazov, wrote, “Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.” We have lied for so long in this capitalistic meritocratic society that for far too many, especially for those in the consummation of privilege – they have ceased to love and to forgive. The psychological, emotional and spiritual wellbeing of others, of those most vulnerable – lost to them. The mantra these days is the suffocation of ‘self-responsibility’.

Dostoyevsky, who also authored Crime and Punishment and the House of the Dead, wrote, “The degree of civilisation in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” Australia has doubled its prison population in the last 20 years with a disproportionate hit on the marginalised, particularly the descendants of the First Nations peoples of this continent. First Nations people comprise 28 per cent of the total prison population though they are less than 3 per cent of the nation’s total population. I estimate that by 2025 First Nations people will comprise one in every two Australian prisoners. This is an abomination – moral, political and otherwise. From a racialised lens, Western Australia, the Northern Territory and South Australia jail First Nations peoples at among the world’s highest rates, with Western Australia competing for the mother of all jailers.

But what are their crimes? They have been born into extreme disadvantage, extreme poverty and into a spectrum with deplorable levels of likelihood of their deterioration from a state of hopelessness to being mentally unwell. Socrates understood that esteem was imperative to the striving for justice and goodness. This is where we fail people, we are not there to build or rebuild their esteem, to strive lovingly. Socrates would have us believe evils are the result of the ignorance of good. I am with Socrates, we have a society that is not bent by reinforcing the innate, of reinforcing ‘good’, but we are a society that demands an impression of what good might be and punish those who transgress. What we are after is unilateral orderliness among all people – and justice argues itself as blind, where everyone is equal but this is a stupendous lie, the law supports privilege and thrashes into the vulnerable, poor, sick – inequality is entrenched by the criminal justice system.

Sjoren Kierkegaard argued that sin meant wilfulness and unlike the Socratic view of ignorance of good, Kierkegaard was bent by the view that some people simply do not want to be good. As naïve as I may appear, the Socratic view aligns with what I have seen in prisons – of people who want to be good, innately are good, but who have accumulated despair, displaced anger, resentment from impoverished or disrupted upbringings. – An inmate said to me, “It is best I am here, and best I keep on coming back, because it is the only hope my children have.”

– An inmate said, “I have no hope in here but it’s even worse out there.” The penal estate is not rehabilitative, not restorative. There are limited job skills programs, limited education opportunities. The penal estate should have been an investiture in people rather than a dungeon, an abyss. The opportunity for healing, psychosocial empowerment, for forgiveness, for redemption, for education skills and qualifications are continually bypassed. This madness never ceases to shock me.

Australia’s overall prison rate of 151 prisoners per 100,000 population ranks 98th of the world’s 222 ranked nations. Australia is an affluent nation, the world’s 12th largest economy. However standalone Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders and compare their prison rate against the world’s national prison rates and they would have the world’s highest, just higher than the Seychelles which incarcerates at 799 per 100,000. The United States of America is second ranked at 698 per 100,000. However in Western Australia, First Nations peoples are incarcerated at more than 3,700 per 100,000. In Western Australia, one in 13 of all Aboriginal adult males is in prison.

No less than one in 10 and up to one in 6 Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders living has been to jail. Forgiveness is not an act of mercy but of empathy, compassion, of virtue. According to vast bodies of research forgiveness has many benefits, outstripping negatives and risks. Forgiveness strengthens families, communities, societies. The most significant finding is the obvious, that forgiveness makes us happier. Forgiveness improves the health of people and communities. Forgiveness sustains relationships. Forgiveness builds and rebuilds lives. Forgiveness connects people, and what better medium for this than through kindness. It was Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the chairperson of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission who argued forgiveness as the only way forward to “true enduring peace”. Someone I correspond with regularly emailed me the Chinese proverb, “It is better to light a small candle rather than curse the darkness.”

We have seen where we will be led to when the only response to crime is punishment. The United States jails nearly one per cent of its total population – 2,300,000 people. Are so many really so bad or is the United States extremely harsh on its most vulnerable? One in four of the world’s prisoners are in American jails. This is the future we need to avoid. If Australia would consider an amnesty – an immediate release – of very low level offenders – more than 8,000 of its 35,000 prison population would walk out today. If Australia was prepared to release its mentally unwell either into community care or specialist care, again more than 8,000 would walk out today. But at all times we should be working closely, lovingly, forgivingly with those inside and so bring them out of the prison experience not worse but better. As it stands now, there is an elevated risk of death by suicide, substance misusing and misadventure in the first year post release – up to ten times according to all the research. We do ever so little for people pre- and post-release.

Society – the criminal justice system, custodial systems and ancillary support systems – will gain more from forgiveness, helping, empowering people than from any other measure. This is not to suggest some crimes should not require imprisonment but that all people are capable of redemption, and that there are far too many who should not be jailed and instead supported, and that at all times we should be doing what we can for our most troubled souls.

People are more likely to be good without having to go to prison but instead who are supported. For those who are sentenced to prison, these must be places where people come first, not last. But there must be forgiveness. They must be assisted in every way to forgive themselves. As a society our focus must be on forgiving and redemption. The most powerful kick-start is a society – the justice systems and our Governments – who are forgiving and hence the message of love will rush to everyone. For far too many people, repentance without forgiveness is torturous. But we must be a forgiving society to make this possible, and for now the odds are against us, as for too many forgiveness is a radical, gratuitous proposition.


By Gerry Georgatos
March 9th, 2015


Suicidal behaviour does not mean that someone wants to die, this is another dangerous myth. Suicidal behaviour is a scream for help – people need people. It is a fallacy to presume ‘self-responsibility’ as a way forward for someone in a dark place. People need people to strengthen their resolve to the ways forward. Suicidal behaviour is destructive behaviour that can lead to impulsive actions such as a suicide attempt. Access to emotional support can save lives. It may never be realised this was the case but person to person support is a huge factor in the improving and saving of lives. Resilience and empowerment are gradually accumulated over time, to the point there comes a time that there is no looking back. It is not true that once someone has exhibited suicidal behaviour that they are forever trapped in the heightened vulnerability to recurring suicidal behavior.

It is true that a powerful indicator to future risk of suicide is a prior suicide attempt however this does not mean that the heightened risk shall be there for life. Indeed, with the coming together of emotional wellbeing and meaningful contexts, there develops resilience within the individual that can make one stronger than ever before. With the right sort of support, protective factors can guard people against the risk of suicide.

Suicide prevention should not be focused alone on reducing risk factors but just as focused, if not more so, on increasing protective factors. The most powerful protective factors include building a connectedness with other people – they do not need to be about direct and targeted support. This connectedness with other people should include the types of engagements that allow the individual to directly and indirectly draw information about wellbeing, about navigating ones journey through society, and therefore predominately focus on self-worth, identity and conflict management.

Most importantly, healthy relationships will contextualise a meaningful life, an honest life, and this in itself is a relief from the conflict and discord that arise from unhealthy levels of expectations. Personal relationships are important, where the support person can understand that they are about support and not about any particular targeted responsibility to the individual. More research needs to be disaggregated on suicidal behaviour and mental disorders, but it appears the majority of suicidal behaviour is not linked to mental disorders and rather to a sense of deep unhappiness. Therefore families and communities can contribute significantly to the improving of the life understandings of a troubled person.

The risk of suicidal behaviour increases when individuals suffer various discord – such as relationship conflict or from a sense of loss or from a sense of failure. People need people. Isolation is dangerous. The best support comes from ones closest social circle. Protective factors, support comes from the development of ones context of meanings but these too are contributed to by ones social circle. Where whole of communities are at heightened risk of community distress, the greatest success found in reducing the levels of communal distress is when the social circle that is the community comes together to support one another – therefore inherently highlighting the context of their meanings. Inherently rather than troubled individuals isolated and effectively judged, they are understood and supported. This type of coming together by families, friends and/or communities to a troubled and isolated individual is about wellbeing.

There may have been childhood trauma, interrupted childhood development – a series of emotional instabilities and turmoils that have affected personality traits which have given rise to unhappiness and suicidal risk factors. But good self-esteem and protective wellbeing factors will come from people coming together with the troubled individual at whatever point in time. These developmental interruptions, life stresses and unhappiness are not mental disorders that require specialist health practitioner support. Rather this is all about people coming together to secure healthy and positive relationship building, to patiently assist one with their self-esteem, to contextualise the path to positive self-identity and the pathway to positive outlooks. Attitude is imperative but it is something shaped by the individual and by those around the individual. People do listen; they listen to the negative and to the positive. Positive adaptive outcomes must be patiently but relentless educated and shaped, and the familial and community support self-evident and generous. Once positive attitudes and positive coping understandings settle in as personality traits, the formerly troubled individual is effectively ‘safe’.

There needs to be in society greater onus on shared understandings of contextual meanings of what it takes to shape positive coping strategies in overcoming childhood adversity – abuse, maltreatment, of exposure to domestic violence, of parent mental disorder. There should be less focus and judgment on the fact of any difficult past, it should not be the focal point but if you read newspapers it is the focus. This bent for the past is damaging because it is a trapping. The discourse needs to be focused on the ways forward and in not holding oneself hostage to any past, or in holding any person or any set of events as responsible for any ongoing damage. Positive meanings and positive attitudes will lead to an understanding and forgiveness of the past and that the present and future can be shaped.

Destructive and self-destructive behaviours should be understood as situational and that individual, familial and community attitudes determine the length of these behaviours. Governments investing their attention in helping resource communities for instance to support others is imperative.

Globally, on average, suicide is the leading cause of violent deaths. Self-destructive and suicidal behaviours are responsible for more hospitalisation and for the descent into more social ills than by any other behaviours. Most suicidal behaviours are linked, and usually exclusively, to unhappiness. Therefore suicidal behaviour is preventable. I would argue that suicide and suicidal behaviour are the major health problems society face but of all our major health problems suicidal behaviour is the most preventable. Yet adequate suicide prevention is not prioritised by Governments. Where causality is limited to relationship and social factors and to vulnerable individuals sense or feelings of hopelessness, the descent into a sense of entrapment and the responsive trait of impulsivity, then this behaviour can be addressed by positive mentoring.

Unhappiness is something that can be addressed holistically rather than it being compartmentalised as some sort of mental disorder manifestation and as of a runaway train risk factor to mental disorders. Unhappiness is a manifestation. The prevalence of suicide and suicidal behaviour is higher in high and middle income nations as opposed in low income nations. Similarly, rates of reported depressions and of hospitalisations from self-harm are higher in high and middle income nations. Life stresses that lead to suicidal behaviour in some cultures do not lead to suicidal behaviour in other cultures. Therefore the context of our meanings and our support groups are pivotal.

The outlier in the above are discriminated minorities and peoples. In nations, especially high and middle income nations, with relatively recent colonial oppressor histories, the descendants of First Peoples have been degenerated to discriminated minorities. Unless the descendants of First Peoples accept homogeneity and hard edged assimilation they consequently experience a deep sense of discrimination. This goes to the heart of identity, to self-worth and esteem and their historical and contemporary identities become a liability. These disaggregated groups have the world’s highest rates of depressions, unhappiness, self-harms, suicidal behaviour and suicides. It is all about identity, whether for a vulnerable child, young adult, cultural group – the answers lay in respecting one another, being there for the other, empowering each other through meanings, relationships, freedoms and attitudinally.

Suicide prevention is about the positive self and any comprehensive response includes everyone. A comprehensive national response for suicide prevention requires understanding the above. Loose understandings will tighten if we begin to understand that the majority of suicidal behaviours are directly linked to trauma and unhappiness – to situational events. Contexts and understandings can be changed before dangerous reliefs from substance abusing are sought or before serious mental disorders set in.

The point is that suicides, our leading cause of violent deaths, which receive relative little mention in the news, are the most preventable violence. Self-destructive behaviours that can culminate in suicidal behaviours and distress families and communities are in fact a leading cause of familial breakdowns and of community distress. Once again, the point is that this behaviour is the most preventable of the various destructive behaviours that impact families and communities. These need to be prioritised in national conversations, by the media, by our Governments. There are many ways forward. More to come.

Lifeline’s 24-hour hotline, 13 11 14 Crisis Support and Suicide Prevention Beyond Blue – 1300 22 4636


By Gerry Georgatos
February 20th, 2015


Each day, a suicide is brought to my attention. I have written widely on the suicide crises. I have written about the disproportionate rate of death by suicide for the descendants of the First Peoples and for first and second generation Australians and for LGBQTI Australians. Recently I wrote about the tragic suicide of 18 year old Philinka Powdrill, who represents so many of the suicides that tear at families long after one is gone. In the last few days, I learned of three more young Aboriginal persons suiciding while in the prime of life – all of them women; one of a 26 year old woman last night at Baluyu community, 10kms from Fitzroy Crossings. Another of a 24 year old mother in Balga, Perth.

The only jurisdiction in Australia to record an increase in the rate of suicide between 2006 to 2010 compared to the previous five years, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) was Western Australia. But this outlier spike in suicides in Western Australia disguises the fact that little has improved. The State Government may argue that they have lowered suicide rates but this is against the outlier. When you remove the outlier, the otherwise long term high rates of suicides have not decreased.

As a result of the horrific increase in suicides in Western Australia during that five year period, the State endured an increase from 11.8 suicides per 100,000 population to 13.2 suicides per 100,000. But across the nation there was an overall decline from 11.4 to 10.7 suicides per 100,000 population.

During the five year horror stretch for Western Australia, a disproportionate number of the suicides occurred in the Kimberley – particularly in and around Fitzroy Crossings, Mowanjum and Balgo.

Suicide and severe self-harms are crises that need to be addressed. They will not be solved with piecemeal funding approaches for one-off workshops and ‘suicide prevention ambassadors’. The social health and well-being of communities, towns and city districts must be evaluated and redressed. Support services and empowerment programs must be assessed in terms of their capacity to engage with people and whether they are able to do so 24/7.

Suicide is the number one cause of death in Australia for males who are aged 14 to 50 years. More lives are lost to suicide nationally than are lost to any other tragedy including road fatalities.

Suicide is disproportionately higher among First Peoples but it is a problem for all Australians. However more needs to be done for First Peoples than for all other cultural groups though suicide is higher for many migrant groups as opposed to most of the rest of the population. Suicide rates are also very high among LGBQTI Australians. However First Peoples, other cultures and LGBQTI are not adequately represented across the board in discussions on mental health and suicide prevention. Their exclusion or their just being tagged on by research groups, think thanks and conference groups risks a one size fits all approach to policy making.

Suicide prevention must become one of the nation’s priority agendas. People need people and this is the fundamental underwriting of suicide prevention. Over the past five years, the average number of suicides each year have been close to 2,500. There are on average seven suicides per day. However, the Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander population is only 2.5 per cent of the national population however one in every 24 deaths of an Aboriginal person is by suicide according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. This is a horrific rate but according to my research, when we include estimated unreported and unclassified suicides I believe the rate is 1 in 12 of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander deaths by suicide.

The overall national suicide rate peaked at its highest in 1963, at 17.5 per 100,000 and many of the suicides of were within first waves of migrant groups. Loneliness, isolation, racism and racialisation were huge factors. Today we find the highest suicide rates among First Peoples and then among first and second generations of ‘migrants’. In 1997, the national suicide rate was 14.6 but has since fallen to generally less than 12 per 100,000 each year.

The highest age-specific suicide rate for males in 2012 was within the 85 years and older age group – 38 per 100,000 population. The rate is considerably higher than all the other age groups – for instance 27 per 100,000 for the 45 to 49 year old age group. In 2012, three quarters of all suicides were by males.

According to the World Health Organisation the highest national suicide rate is French Guyana at 44 per 100,000.

So, here is the grave disparity.

In 2012, suicide accounted for 1.7 per cent of deaths. Male suicides in 2012 were 2.5 per cent of all male deaths – 1 in 40. Female suicides were 1 per cent of all female deaths – 1 in 100. However 4.2 per cent of all Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander deaths were by suicide – 1 in 24. I argue even higher, that it is more likely 1 in 12.

Why is this happening? Major contributors are disregarded by certain researchers, policy makers and Governments. These contributors and stressors, although not limited to, include cultural settings, a confrontation of cultural norms, racialisation, racism, the psychosocial identity and extreme poverty.

The highest suicide rates were in the Northern Territory where one third of its total population are First Peoples. Then followed by Tasmania and Western Australia but when the suicide rates are disaggregated to First Peoples alone, then it is a whole different story.

The descendants of First Peoples are less than 2.5 per cent of the total Australian population, however their children make up nearly 6 per cent of the total Australian child population. If the suicide rates are not reduced in the years to come the overall national suicide rates may increase to what they were in 1963 and 1997.

The majority of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander suicides occur before 35 years of age. This has devastating psychological and social impacts on families. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, the most vulnerable age-specific category are the 25 to 29 year old Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander males – 91 suicides per 100,000 Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander population.

So, where earlier I wrote about 11 suicides per 100,000, 18 per 100,000 and for 85 year olds a high of 37 per 100,000 population now we are looking at figures like 91 per 100,000 when we disaggregate to Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders.

Here is where we must ask the big questions of race, racism, racialisation, marginalisation, extreme poverty and social health. There are no other explanations even if the nay say mob and the one size fits all reductionists argue otherwise.

Nationally, Aboriginal males aged 15 to 19 years have a suicide rate of 44 per 100,00 compared to non-Aboriginal males 15 to 19 years of 19 per 100,000.

20 to 24 year old Aboriginal males have a suicide rate of 75 per 100,000 compared to non-Aboriginal 20 to 24 year olds, 22 per 100,000.

25 to 29 year old Aboriginal males have a suicide rate of 91 per 100,000 compared to their non-Aboriginal counterparts, 18 per 100,000.

30 to 34 year old Aboriginal males have a suicide rate of 60 per 100,000, as opposed to their counterparts of 15 per 100,000.

Spatial mapping and disaggregating are imperative eye openers that have been long neglected. Over certain periods of time some regions have endured suicide rates of more than 100 and 200 per 100,000 population but even outside these outliers, the long term suicide trends, age-specific or overall, of First Peoples are worse not just more than the rest of the nation but also worse than most of the rest of world’s suicide rates.

Several years ago, a spate of suicides in a part of the Kimberley was touted 182 times the national suicide rate. But despite the normal retraction of this outlier, Governments should not insult researchers and their constituents by suggesting they have somehow brought down the suicide rate when they have not. They should not be making out they have responded to the long term suicide crisis because the outliers have flattened to out to what are still high suicide rates.

They should make their statements contextually against the long term trends and not against outliers.

Last year, the Western Australian Auditor-General, Colin Murphy criticised the inadequate suicide prevention strategies by the Government. Mr Murphy stated in a report tabled to Parliament that strategies and policies were inadequate. However, the State Government remains bent on a selling a message that it has responded.

Mr Murphy warned the Government to not delay in putting forward a substantial approach to suicide prevention.

“When we look at the implementation (of suicide prevention programs) there was certainly an opportunity to do much better, it didn’t go as well as it could have.”

“Changes were made in 2012 and 2013, increasing the number of community action plans, but other parts of the strategy were not completed.”

In 2012, there was an increase above the national average in suicides across the nation among First Peoples. It was worst in Western Australia. Western Australia’s overall suicide crisis is demonstrated by the fact that in 2012, the State reported 366 suicides, up from the very high 194 of 2004. A disproportionate burden of these suicides was among the State’s First Peoples who comprise less than 3 per cent of the State’s population. The Kimberley where half the population is of First Peoples was the worst affected region. For the first ten years of the new millennia there were 996 reported suicides of First Peoples, about 100 per year. But tragically the loss of life by suicide increased in 2011 and 2012. It is all getting worse for First Peoples – arrest rates, jail rates, homeless rates, extensiveness of extreme poverty. The more west we travel across the continent, the worse it gets for First Peoples, worse in northern South Australia, worse throughout the Northern Territory, and worst of all, Western Australia.

The horror of all this is compounded by the estimate that for every suicide there are up to 40 attempted suicides, and each year there are tens of thousands of hospitalisations for self-harms.

Last year, Kija Elder and Kimberley parliamentarian Josie Farrer said to me, “There is not enough funding for our people in support and counselling services, for healing and for grief. They are left to themselves and to the community alone.”

“The communities need not only services but also economic and social development. They are impoverished and are not able to keep up with the cost of living let alone enjoy the aspirations most of the rest of the nation enjoys.”

“Can you imagine what it is like for a young father on Centrelink or on low income to have to meet rising costs to keep a roof over his young family and to have to afford nutritious food for the table but then to not be able to afford all this?”

“Healthy food is much more expensive in the remote and regions than it is in capital cities and in big towns. Price hiking doesn’t worry whether you are poor.”

Western Australia has a high child suicide rate. From 2007 to 2011 there were 36 reported suicides of 13 to 17 year olds alone. 13, or 36 per cent, of these suicides were Aboriginal children but in Western Australia Aboriginal children make up less than 6 per cent of children in this age category. It is important to note that all but one of these Aboriginal children were in school, so let us drop at least one of the racial stereotypes that some will assert. Broader statistical reporting reflects the crisis with Aboriginal youth aged 15 to 24 years. Their suicide rate is 42 per 100,000 as opposed to the 8 per 100,000 for non-Aboriginal children aged 15 to 24 years.

It is a nightmare of neglect for all our children, for the whole nation, but of catastrophic proportions for First Peoples.

What needs to be done will only be achieved when the right people are in the right appointments to lead the way. This is my close up experience.

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