Indigenous Child Suicide

Helga Salwe

2017 - Ongoing

The leading cause of death of indigenous children in Australia aged between 7 and 12 is suicide. Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people make up only 2.8 % of the population but in the past five years, one in every 4 children who died by suicide was indigenous. There is something especially shocking about the suicide of a child for whom life was just beginning. It indicates serious underlying issues in our society, and the children are reacting to their environment.

Short and long term action is essential, but alongside this, long term action must address the traumatic, disrupting and intergenerational effects of colonisation and its aftermath: poverty and social exclusion. These are deep rooted contributors to Indigenous suicide and child suicide. In the short term, we need to identify and provide immediate help to the children and young people in crisis situations. Families, peers and schools need to be involved, with back up from counsellors and if required, 24/7 access to culturally competent mental health professionals.

I am currently working with both WIRE ( Womens Information Referral Exchange) an organisation which supports women and girls through phone counselling. I also have strong connections to the ‘Womens Donor Network’ who work towards creating gender equality. Both these organisations are eager to support me in this project. They will assist me with venues to exhibit and basically help reach the people who have the power and resources to make a difference in funding and policy.

Over the past 30 years I have spent time in various indigenous communities throughout Australia. Although I am white and have all the associated privileges, I’m the daughter of refugees and understand something of what it means to lose your culture, language, homeland and family through war and dislocation. Over the years I’ve developed a strong attachment and love of the Aboriginal people of Australia. During this time I have witnessed the further radical breakdown of Aboriginal society, especially affecting the children.

I believe if this issue were more widely known about in Australia in would be regarded as intolerable. At the moment very little is being done to address this unfolding tragedy.

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