Wishing you knew more about Aboriginal culture? Search no more.
Get key foundational knowledge about Aboriginal culture in a fun and engaging way.
This is no ordinary resource: It includes a fictional story, quizzes, crosswords and even a treasure hunt.
Stop feeling bad about not knowing. Make it fun to know better.
- Proportion of Aboriginal people in Australia who are affected by a suicide .
- Times greater: The likelihood that Aboriginal people commit suicide, compared to non-Aboriginal people. The Kimberley region has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. 
- Proportion of suicides in the Northern Territory which were Aboriginal in 2010. Same figure for 1991: 5% .
- Number of threatened, attempted or completed suicides in an Aboriginal community of 5,500 people in 2007 and 2008 .
- Number of young people in every 100,000 who commit suicide in the Northern Territory. Same figure for New South Wales: 1 in 100,000 .
- Alleged price of a bottle of alcohol on the black market. Alcohol is a common factor in suicides .
- Percentage of child suicides between 2007 and 2011 where the child was Aboriginal .
- Percentage of suicides of youth aged 10 to 24 in 2011 where the victim was Aboriginal. Same figure for 1991: 10% .
- Proportion the suicide rate for Aboriginal males is higher than that for non-Aboriginal males .
- Percentage of Aboriginal deaths which are from suicide in 2014; in 2012: 4.5% ; in 2011: 4.2%. Figure for non-Aboriginal Australians in 2011: 1.5% .
- Number of estimated annual Aboriginal suicides in Australia in 2014; in 2012: 120 ; for the years 2001 to 2010: 100 (reported average) .
- Number of reported Aboriginal suicides in Australia in 2012 .
- Suicides per 100,000 people in 2014 in the Kimberley; overall national rate: 11; world’s highest overall national rate (Guyana, South America): 44 .
- Times higher: Levels of psychological stress among the Aboriginal population aged 18 and over, compared to the non-Aboriginal community .
“Death is our life”—Aboriginal suicide is at crisis levels
No word in the ancient Yolngu language describes suicide.—Sydney Morning Herald 
Suicide was unknown to Aboriginal people traditionally.—Robert Eggington, Nyoongar leader 
Almost non-existent in the 1980s, the rate of suicide and self harm amongst Aboriginal people has reached crisis levels and “horrific proportions”, particularly in remote communities and particularly amongst youth. Despite suicide rates rising, the Australian government does not respond adequately to this epidemic.
“Death is our life,” says South Australian Elder Tauto Sansbury, describing the state of the Aboriginal landscape Australia-wide, of mourning and sadness for young lives lost far too often .
With 95% of Aboriginal people in Australia are affected by suicide, many of them are born into families where grief from suicide already exists, sometimes across two or three generations. Suicide is likely the single biggest killer of Aboriginal Australians. 
Research by journalist Gerry Georgatos found “that the prevalence of spates of suicides among Australian Aboriginal youth are the world’s highest, and that these spates are becoming more prevalent and settling in to higher medians year in year out.” 
Worldwide Australia ranks 64th for suicide rates, while Aboriginal Australia ranks 12th . The Aboriginal youth suicide rate is higher than every country in the world, except for Greenland .
Suicide numbers are so high among young Aboriginal children that community leaders speak of “horrific narratives”  and a “normalisation” of suicide in that age group. More and more children, who are younger and younger, commit suicide.
“There is a fundamental failure at a community level where kids feel as if the only coping mechanism they have is to end their life,” finds Geraldton Mayor Ian Carpenter .
Australia’s Aboriginal suicide epidemic
Aboriginal communities in the Kimberley in Western Australia mourned 21 suicide deaths in 2006, compared to only three in the wider community , a rise by 100%. A “suicide epidemic” saw up to 20 young Aboriginal people took their lives within 12 months . In Mowanjum, a 10-minute drive from mining hub Derby in the West Kimberley, there were 6 suicides in as many months . In the 7 weeks to Christmas 2014 as many people killed themselves .
The Kimberley is the region of highest risk with suicides in the early 2010s in the region reaching 182 times the rate of the general population .
The young suicide more
For Aboriginal children aged 14 years and less, suicide is the second leading cause of death – and they are 8 times more likely to die by suicide than their non-Aboriginal peers.
For young Aboriginal people aged 15 to 35 years, suicide is the leading cause of death – 30% of deaths in this vast age group are reported as suicides – therefore nearly one in three deaths in this 20 year age group are suicides. 
Analysis of 102 suicides in the Kimberley between 2005 and 2014 found that 71% individuals were male, 68% were less than 30 years old, and 27% were less than 20 years old.  Hanging was the method of suicide in 93% of the cases.
Male suicide rates
In a 2009 report the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare compared suicide rates of 15 to 34-year-old males :
|15 - 19||44||19||2.3|
|20 - 24||75||22||3.4|
|25 - 29||91||18||5.1|
|30 - 34||60||15||4.0|
The table shows that the most vulnerable age-specific category are the 25 to 29-year-old Aboriginal males - 91 suicides per 100,000, nine times the overall national rate of 11 suicides per 100,000 .
Suicide has become the 2nd leading cause of death for Aboriginal men in the NT after cardiovascular disease . Since the majority of Aboriginal suicides occur before 35 years of age, it has devastating psychological and social impacts on families.
Young Aboriginal men are the highest risk group, with young Aboriginal women catching up . In the Northern Territory, Aboriginal youth suicide is 10 times higher than for non-Aboriginal youth .
States and territories
Western Australia leads the Aboriginal suicide rates, with 35.8 per 100,000 Aboriginal population.
The Northern Territory has a similar suicide rate – 35.2 suicides per 100,000 people. These rates are three times the suicide rate of Aboriginal people in NSW, and twice the Queensland rate. 
In Queensland the suicide rate for the period 1990 to 1995 was 14.5 per 100,000, with the Aboriginal rate being 23.6 .
The number of “completed” Aboriginal suicides in 2011 exceeded the number of Australian Defence Force fatalities in Afghanistan .
The independent and not-for-profit Telethon Kids Institute also researches Aboriginal suicides. It has published maps showing Aboriginal suicide rates and numbers across Australia like the one below using data from the National Coronial Information System which provides the best available picture of suicide in Australian states and territories, although some data needs to be used with caution (see the disclaimer on their website).
There are probably more suicides
Precise data on the number of suicides is difficult and most likely too low because some cases are not recorded as suicides (death occurred due to “external causes” or “accidental threats to breathing”) and delays in publishing figures . In remote areas it’s difficult to access health care services which leads to under-reporting.
Other factors include various classifications dependent on findings, reporting failures, jurisdictional differences in coronal processes, insufficient evidence of a suicide, and various uncertainties at family, community and police levels in aggregating evidence as to the cause of death. 
Because of these uncertainties, some researchers estimate that rather than one in 18 deaths the official suicide rate is closer to one in 10. 
For every suicide there are many more attempted suicides (some estimate up to 40 ), and hundreds of incidences of self-harm. The hospitalisation rate for intentional self-harm for non-Aboriginal Australians in 2014 stood at 142 per 100,000 people but for Aboriginal Australians the rate was 379 per 100,000, an increase from about 260 per 100,000 in 2004. Aboriginal women endured hospitalisation rates of 440 per 100,000 as opposed to 320 per 100,000 for their men. 
Ten times more Aboriginal people talk about suicide than non-Aboriginal people. Most Aboriginal people who present to medical services with suicidal behaviour have no history with them: 97.3% of cases to a Kimberley medical service involved people not known to them.
There is a terrible crisis here but nobody in authority except the police acts as if there is a crisis.—Gary Umbagai, chairman, Mowanjum Aboriginal Corporation 
Watch a documentary with personal stories from Aboriginal people, developed to be an early intervention tool to bring awareness to the growing suicide crisis.
Fact On the Tiwi Islands, north of Darwin in the Northern Territory, steel spikes on power poles try to stop young people from hanging or electrocuting themselves . From 2000 to 2005 the islands were known as the “suicide capital” of the world.
Why do Aboriginal people kill themselves?
Aboriginal suicides are similar but also different to non-Aboriginal suicides—people kill themselves at the end of a long period of suppressed rage (and not grief as commonly thought), but also because of trauma passed on from previous generations, and social marginalisation.
|Aboriginal people||Non-Aboriginal people|
|Main driver||Disempowerment||Risk factors|
|Examples||Mental illness, substance abuses, sexual abuse trauma, loss of land and culture, trans-generational trauma, grief and loss, racism, social exclusion.||Psychiatric disorders (e.g. depression), stressful life events, substance abuse.|
|Environment||Removed from their biological parents, incarceration, acute poverty, denied rights, third-world conditions, missing access to the benefits of education and hard work.||High levels of social disadvantage ranging from unemployment, to homelessness, incarceration and family problems.|
|Historical experiences||High influence, transgenerational trauma of massacres, war and genocide.||Not very influential.|
Rage is what overwhelms us in unbearable situations that we can neither fight nor flee. It is compounded if such situations repeat over a long period of time and the sufferer is powerless to avenge.
Rage or violence is the “prime mover” of suicide , and a person who self-harms has endured physical violence, emotional or sexual abuse as a child or young adult . All these factors are prevalent in Aboriginal communities. Aboriginal violence is not only a result of invasion but also of tribal history .
Aboriginal male suicides play an important part in explaining elevated suicide rates with many suicides concentrated in the 15 to 24 and 25 to 34 age brackets , often through hanging and while incarcerated.
Any event can trigger suicide: becoming unemployed or relationship stress, but also more banal triggers such as not handing over a mobile phone, being refused the car keys or being locked out .
- Unbearable trauma. Many Aboriginal people have been traumatised when they were abused as children in Aboriginal missions and by foster parents, when their children were stolen, their families massacred, they lost their homelands or experienced institutional racism. The pain haunts them through their adult life and if they don’t receive help some just cannot cope any more. Many bear multiple traumas that are composite, aggressive and complex. Trauma is passed on through the generations (transgenerational or collective trauma).“There were all these funerals, these preventable deaths, that were happening and people were reaching a sense of hopelessness. They felt that they couldn’t address their issues, and that death was the only answer,” says Aboriginal woman June Oscar, chief executive of Fitzroy Crossing’s women’s centre .
And he smiled. He was only 13, in enormous pain and he still managed a smile… Because the hidings and beatings they got never seemed to bother them, I used to wonder if their smiles were a separate physical entity and not connected to their emotions… I learned much later that those two boys had hung themselves.—Bill Simon, Aboriginal author 
- Invasion. Invasion and decolonisation has a significant impact on the rates of suicide among indigenous peoples worldwide , as have policies that dominate and change the Aboriginal way of life, such as under the Northern Territory intervention. Decolonisation causes governmental and mission-structured administrations to disappear overnight, leaving a vacuum that causes communities to “implode” and become disordered societies. 
- Poverty. The major factor is the extreme poverty that many are marginalised and racialised within.  Research found that wherever there is extreme poverty in the Kimberley there are spates of suicide and self-harm incidents . Aboriginal people who live above the poverty line suicide at a lower rate than non-Aboriginal Australians. 
The problem is not the individual, the problem is the circumstances of the individual.—Gerry Georgatos, Aboriginal journalist and researcher in suicide prevention and racism 
- Racism. Ongoing racism is a big driver to suicide, even for Aboriginal youth who are doing well at school . Walmajarri and Bunaba Kimberley mother, Lena Andrews, who lost her 18-year-old daughter to suicide, says: “Our people are smashed by it, hurt by it, tortured by it. This is a nation of two peoples. The First Peoples and the Australian peoples and unless First Peoples do as they’re told then they are punished by every means imaginable.”  Some cannot show the “inexhaustible resilience” required to deal with racism.
- Abuse of alcohol and drugs. Many deaths are highly correlated to the abuse of alcohol, ice and cannabis. Some propose a self-imposed ban on drugs to ‘suicide-proof’ communities. The time has come to take matters into their own hands and address “how we’ve neglected each other and made up excuses.” 
- Poor living conditions. The appalling living conditions play their part: Foetal alcohol syndrome, poor levels of education, few jobs, ‘disgraceful’ public housing, overcrowded homes. Increasing government spending is a way to improve community life and avoid Aboriginal suicides. But it is seriously flawed, because “no organisation or individual monitors the performance of [government] agencies and no-one is held responsible for achieving improved outcomes for Aboriginal people” .
- Being locked up in prison. Prisons are one of the places where Aboriginal suicide emerged. It’s a place where Aboriginal Australians continue to be vastly over-represented. With extensive media coverage of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, awareness of Aboriginal suicide found its way into communities in the 1990s, and in the decades that followed rates have soared.
- ‘Normalisation’ of suicides. In Aboriginal life suicides are often part of community life which contributes to more suicides, just as the lack of opportunity to discuss grief or taboos surrounding suicide .
- Lack of emotional support. Many Aboriginal youth experience a lack of emotional support in their families which don’t talk about their problems with each other. They feel shunned by parents and unwanted. 
- No trust in, or access to, support services. Many young Aboriginal people have lost faith in services that could help them, such as counselling service Kids Helpline. They have doubts about the cultural competence and generally don’t believe services can help them . Some have confidentiality concerns about their issues remaining private, while others fear that using a service would result in shame for themselves or their family, being judged, ridiculed or punished. But one of the biggest barriers in rural and remote areas remains access to such services in the first place.
We need to ensure there are more Indigenous counsellors and that all counsellors have a better cultural awareness and understanding.—Wendy Protheroe, general manager, Kids Helpline 
- Young people’s crisis. Young Aboriginal people often commit suicide as a result of sustained and ongoing drug abuse, problems with psychosis and a lack of self-esteem . The only empowerment they have, it seems to them, is over their bodies and lives .
- Lack of self-esteem and identity. Self-esteem and identity “have taken hits over a long period of time that other Australian identities have not,” says journalist Gerry Georgatos. This distinguishes Aboriginal suicides from the rest of the Australian population. “For many Aboriginal peoples their identity is often a liability.” 
Theory of Interculture
Sue Hanson, a linguist with the Noongar Boodja Language Cultural Aboriginal Corporation in Bunbury, WA, says Aboriginal suicide statistics can be attributed to cultural friction.
“There is a theory called the theory of interculture which describes three cultural areas, non-Indigenous, Indigenous and the intercultural space between where the two interact,” she explains. “When we interact in our community [with people of another culture] we do so in the intercultural space, when we go home we enter the non-Indigenous area, and for Aboriginals they enter the Indigenous area.”
“The problem for a lot of Indigenous youth is – because of their loss of culture – they remain in the intercultural space permanently and that’s where issues surrounding drug use, crime and suicide begin to arise.” 
- Feeling of inequality. When Aboriginal youth observe the tokenistic attention their parents get from non-Aboriginal bureaucrats, rather than appropriate respect, it drives home a message of inequality , and subsequently a deep feeling of anger and helplessness.
- Contagion effect. Counsellors often refer to a contagion effect with suicide, with one death sparking another. In 2013-14 contagion was identified as a potential factor for seven of the 23 children who suicided in Queensland.  Also, during traditional funeral ceremonies which can go on for days, children see that the most attention the deceased ever gets is during the funeral period. This attracts other young people to take their own lives .
- Domestic violence. Some cannot see other ways of escaping domestic and family violence than ending their lives.
Following is a special ABC report about the youth suicide crisis levels among the Aboriginal population .
Suicide risk factors
The following ‘risk factors’ have been identified by community leaders, Elders and those working closely with Aboriginal communities in Australia .
- Unresolved historical and inter-generational trauma (frontier massacres, dispossession from traditional lands, assimilation policy, Stolen Generations, racism, abuse)
- Loss of cultural identity. Especially troubled youths with very fragile identities are prone to suicide.
- Loss of spiritual connection to land
- Little education. The more education someone has completed the more “protective factors” they have that prevent them from contemplating suicide. High levels of education are a more significant protective factor than full-time employment. 
- Cross-cultural confusion and lack of cultural resilience
- Family disconnection and isolation of youth
- Unemployment and lack of opportunities
- Welfare dependency
- Lack of self respect and self confidence, in particular amongst Aboriginal men
- Disempowerment and loss of community control and traditional authority
- Ongoing racism and institutional prejudice
- Hoplessness & social breakdown. In a a community that experiences trauma collectively, the sharing around the trauma and the sense of hopelessness can trigger people to suicide. When the entire family or community experiences hopelessness, the despair and self-destruction begins from a younger age.
Effects of suicide
Heather Umbagai used to be a proud and perceptive woman. After she lost her son to suicide a big sadness and depression followed. Her health declined and renal failure set in .
For three years I was like a zombie – there was nobody to help me through the grief.—Aboriginal woman Heather Umbagai 
Suicide affects a community in many ways.
- Mental health problems as a result of trauma and grief.
- Copycats are triggered when witnessing suicide deaths.
- Normalisation of suicide as children witness it at a young age and grow up learning that suicide is a valid option to “solve” even little problems.
- Constant reminders of suicide as people in communities cut down trees in a desperate attempt to remove reminders of suicide, but at the same time creating an environment “littered with hacked tree trunks” .
- Loss of leaders. Communities are losing the next generation of leaders to suicide.
- Family and community breakdown. Self-destructive and suicidal behaviours lead to familial breakdowns and of community distresses.
Fact A young man in the Mowanjum Aboriginal community is called “the hangman” because of the scars around his neck from an attempted suicide .
Fact Many Aboriginal funeral insurance plans have clauses that limit the money paid out if a person commits suicide. In one case a plan worth $64,000 only paid $1,600. 
Overcoming the suicide crisis
Aboriginal people crying out for help are often met what they believe is “chronic official indifference” to their plight . Despite the deaths, no effective suicide prevention strategy has been put in place.
Findings of two coronal investigations into suicide have been largely ignored . In March 2013, Western Australia’s Premier Colin Barnett admitted that alleged billions of dollars spent on Aboriginal services and communities were not reaching the people .
Work done overseas in Canada has shown that there is a direct correlation between declining suicide rates and increases in resources allocated to allow for self-government and community-based services .
Often listening is all that is required as the following story shows.
In his bag he had rope to hang himself
Gerry Georgatos is tirelessly working to help raise awareness for Aboriginal suicide. He tells the following story: 
“One of the volunteers, a gentleman walked up to me, embraced me. I do my bit with an elevated risk group to suicide – the homeless. The last time we met, he had been sitting in a park where many of Perth’s homeless congregate.
“He was on his own, tearful. I put my hand on his shoulder and said something [comforting] to him… He looked up at me forlorn, in a tumult of unbearable pain but with eyes screaming ‘help’.
I sat next to him and for a couple of hours I listened. We talked but mostly I listened. In his bag he had rope to hang himself.”
How to reduce Aboriginal suicides
There are some factors that can improve the well-being of Aboriginal people and reduce the risk of suicide :
- Hear the people. Despite suicide being a crisis the topic has been absent from politics. But people who are losing their loved ones are crying out to be heard. Experts like Gerry Georgatos demand a national inquiry or royal commission into (not only) Aboriginal suicides.
The hundreds of suicide affected families I have sat with, who have lost their loved ones, they are crying out to be heard, they are screaming.—Gerry Georgatos, suicide researcher 
- Strengthen culture and language. There are strong links between cultural strength, cultural identity and young Aboriginal people’s vulnerability to suicide and self-harm .
- Overcome poverty. Suicide researcher Gerry Georgatos says that reducing Aboriginal poverty would help reduce suicides significantly. “Very few Aboriginal [people] and Torres Strait Islanders living above the poverty line suicide, in fact at a less rate than for non-Indigenous Australians,” he found. 
- Connection to land. Living on or maintaining relationship with traditional lands. Taking young people onto country so they can reconnect with who they are as the basis for building self-belief, self-confidence and self-respect .
- Join youth with Elders. Bridging the divide between youth and Elders and bringing back respect for Elders and culture.
- Community empowerment. Empowering communities to handle affairs themselves is important for true self determination.
- People need people. According to a suicide researcher, “understanding one another, understanding unfairness, helping one another, being there for one another are the most profound steps to suicide prevention”. “People need people, 24/7.” 
- Recognise Aboriginal law and customs. Recognise customary law and discipline and offer culturally appropriate ways to address and overcome the crisis. Apply justice reinvestment rather than punitive justice.
- ‘Two-way’ education. Schools need to also teach Aboriginal culture.
- Focus on the young. Engaging activities for youth in communities help them socialise and discover alternatives. The award-winning Yirimam Project in the Kimberley, initiated by Aboriginal elders in 1997, takes young people into the bush to help them develop a sense of their cultural heritage, which builds self-esteem and identity  and prevents suicides.
- Offer jobs. Culturally-appropriate job pathways and work opportunities give meaning to their lives.
- Heal the trauma. Elder-driven on-country healing programs for youth help them become stronger and think differently about themselves. Support Elders to maintain and pass on their cultural knowledge to young people. Help those who have suffered child sexual abuse. Strengthen social and emotional wellbeing and cultural identity.
- A network of (Aboriginal) health experts. A network of psychiatrists, nurses and mental health workers - many of them Aboriginal - in Western Australia led to a 120% increase in Aboriginal people accessing mental health services, a 144% increase in face-to-face clinical consultations and a 44% increase in those accessing community health services.  Aboriginal community-controlled health services should be the preferred facilitators of suicide prevention activity to their communities. 
- Support marginalised groups. Aboriginal people identifying as LGBTQI are a minority within a minority and need to be represented on mental health and suicide prevention advisory forums. 
We want Government to support the Elders so we can teach culture to our young people – when they have culture first they have the very thing that will hold them strong through their lives no matter what they choose to do or where they choose to do it.—Eustice Tipiloura, Aboriginal Elder, Tiwi Islands 
Aaron Stuart has written The Story of Yudum, a book which illustrates
how Aboriginal people dealt with suicide before invasion.
The book is a good resource for anyone teaching about suicide prevention in Aboriginal communities, but also for those interested in the matter.
Homework: What can be done?
South Australian Elder Tauto Sansbury says :
“And yet there is no mention of this continuing [Aboriginal suicide] problem in the media apart from the obituaries, and the Aboriginal community itself reacts to this situation passively as if it is acceptable and just the normal course of things. It is not an issue for discussion or action, at any level of government or in any human rights forum. I tell you it’s not the normal course of things.”
- Why do you think are Aboriginal people so passive about the suicide epidemic amongst their people?
- What should the Australian media change to help prevent future suicides?
- Research what the Australian government has done to address Aboriginal suicide. What should it do next?
Tip Every second Tuesday in September is World Suicide Prevention Day.
For immediate assistance when life may be in danger
Suicide Callback Service - emergency
13 11 14 - 24/7 hotline
Crisis Support and Suicide Prevention services
Suicide Call Back Service
1300 659 467 - 24/7 hotline
The Suicide Call Back Service provides free nationwide professional telephone and online counselling for anyone affected by suicide.
Suicide Callback Service
1300 22 4636 - 24/7 hotline
Depression. Anxiety. Talk it through with us, day or night
1300 78 99 78
MensLine Australia is a professional telephone and online support and information service for Australian men.
Kids Help Line
1800 55 1800
For ages 5 - 25 years