Gerry Georgatos, community consultant and media liaison officer at the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project told The Conversation by email that:
The ATSISPEP does not state Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth suicide rates are the highest in the world even if some of us believe that more than likely they are. There is not enough available comparative data for such a conclusive statement, other than speculative likelihoods and reasonable assessments.
However we do know that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicides when disaggregated regionally, for instance to the Kimberley, to regions of the Northern Territory, to far north Queensland and when viewed from a racialised lens are definitely among the world’s highest rates, tragically.
They are at the high end of the global spectrum but then again other comparators should be taken into account – demographical life expectancy, economic indicators, whether the host nation or region has a low, middle or high income median, and other economic, social, civil and historical factors, including racism and discrimination.
For instance, of all high income nations with relative recent colonial oppressor histories Australia has among the world’s widest divides between its First Peoples and the rest of the population of its measurable economic and social indicators. Australia’s jailing rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are at the highest end of the global spectrum, and – when disaggregated to the Northern Territory and Western Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations – are among the world’s highest jailing rates. This is also true of disaggregated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island suicide rates.
But in the end, it is not a competition of which peoples in our world have the highest rates in the tragedy of suicide - all lives matter. However, we believe that suicide among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is a humanitarian crisis and that it must be highlighted in order that this pressing issue should be responded to as a national priority.
Professor Pat Dudgeon is an expert in the underlying issues that culminate in the psychological distresses, disturbing self-harming and in the suicide rates among Aboriginal and Torres Strait peoples.
Various media has made comparisons from some of our suicide rates data with available global rates.
According to the World Health Organisation (2014) whose most recent data sets are to 2012, Guyana has the world’s highest suicide rate – 44 suicides per 100,000 population.
According to this report Australia’s suicide rate ranks 64th of the 171 national suicide rates provided. A simple comparison of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide rate would rank it equivalent to number 12 in the world against the global national trends.
However if we disaggregate regionally, for instance to the Kimberley, and standalone to its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples the suicide rate is at 70 per 100,000, tragically higher than all the world’s national trends. Far north Queensland’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples tragically also have a suicide rate of 70 per 100,000.
The significant statistic that should galvanise the nation and government to a comprehensive national response is for Aboriginal and Torres Strait and Islander people aged 15 to 35 years, nearly one in three deaths is by suicide – 29% of this age group’s deaths are suicide, their leading cause of death.
Another significant statistic is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged 14 years and less, they have eight times the suicide rate of non-Aboriginal children – 1 in 10 deaths are suicide – their second leading cause of death.
Working alongside us is our partner the Telethon Kids Institute and their research team and we are also availed to other information yet not published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. We are tracking current rates, regionally and nationally which are to be published in terms of medians and various categories and where permissible in more detail. We do know that for instance the suicide rates in the Kimberley are high for 2014 and 2015. We have recommended real time data tracking and there is now work around this. Within the next month we will convene a Statistical Roundtable and this will assist in further disaggregation and in unmasking data.
We also know that there is underreporting of suicides however this too is a global problem. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, between 2001 to 2010 there were 996 registered suicides of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This equated to 1 in 24 of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths by suicide. But this has now increased to 1 suicide in 19 deaths. However I estimate because of underreporting issues that the actual suicide rate is more likely 1 in 12 to 1 in 16. All these statistical narratives are staggeringly tragic. It is not a how worse or how bad it will get competition but in fact is a humanitarian crisis, particularly when coupled with other unnatural and premature death rates.
Another significant statistic is that between 2001 to 2012, 35.1% of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicides were of youth. The Northern Territory Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander male youth, 15 to 24 years of age, had a suicide rate of 121.6 per 100,000. Western Australia Aboriginal 15 to 24 years aged youth followed with 90.3.
It is not a competition, it is not about who has the world’s highest rates; comparators are complex and need to be contextualised. However, when disaggregated to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders –- and to the high risk regions – Australia does have a humanitarian crisis and among the world’s highest suicide rates. There is no greater legacy than to improve the lot of others to the point of saving lives.