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

The suicide rate in Australia is a humanitarian crisis

As I begin to write this piece, I have been informed of a former refugee who has taken his life, of a mother who has taken her life, of a young Aboriginal woman who has taken her life, of a former inmate who has taken his life, of a newly arrived migrant who has taken her life. Each of these individuals was aged in their 20s.

Suicide takes twice as many Australian lives as all other forms of violence combined, including homicides, military deaths and the road toll. The suicide toll should be the nation’s most pressing issue – the issue of our time. But alas it is not.

There is a humanitarian crisis in this affluent nation, a catastrophic, systematic crisis: suicide accounts for more than 5% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths. It’s a staggering, harrowing statistic. In fact in my estimations, because of under-reporting issues, suicide accounts for 10% of Indigenous deaths. The contributing factors are many and intertwined, underwritten by the kind of acute poverty, disadvantage and marginalisation that should make no sense in one of the world’s wealthiest nations.

But they are not limited to socioeconomic factors. From within the cesspool of this situational trauma – this narrative of victimhood – there has manifest a constancy of traumas – multiple, composite, aggressive, complex traumas.

We need more than just generalised counselling, but this last resort is the first resort. Resilience selling is part of this generalised counselling where we beg the victim to adjust their behaviours – but how far and for how long without hope on the horizon?

The factors that can culminate in suicide are the most preventable of the various destructive behaviours that impact on families and communities. There are many ways forward.

A national inquiry or royal commission into Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicides – and in fact into all suicides – is long overdue. We cannot live in the silences and dangerously internalise this tragedy. I have travelled to hundreds of homeland communities and the people who are losing their loved ones are crying out to be heard, they are screaming.

Despite all the good work done by many in saving lives, the suicide toll, particularly for the most elevated risk groups, is on the increase. Without the deep examination that a royal commission will provide, the suicide prevention space will remain inauthentic – hostage to carpetbaggers and the ignorant.

It is never enough to deal with the symptoms. The cause must be validated without languishing within it so as to avoid drowning in negatives and misery.

Identifying trauma in any given population, including among LGBQTI people, former inmates, foster children, the homeless, the chronically impoverished, newly arrived migrants, culturally and linguistically diverse migrants and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, we start with behavioural observations and proceed with the opportunity for the individual to tell their story. People need people, 24/7.

Our capacity to listen is an imperative and must be achieved without judgment, for often redemption is needed: forgiveness in addition to sympathy and empathy. These skills do not come easy to everyone but they are vital in the suicide prevention space, in trauma counselling, in restorative therapies, in navigating people to a positive self.

There is no greater legacy that any government can have than to prioritise and invest in the improving of lives, the changing of lives, the saving of lives.

  • Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.

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