Young Aboriginal Australians are four times more likely to commit suicide than non-indigenous Australians and in one remote community in the country’s Kimberley region, the Aboriginal suicide rate is estimated to be seven times the national average.
Experts and Aboriginal elders believe this can be attributed in part to a feeling of disconnection from the land and traditional culture and that the solution rests in restoring that, rather than solely in combatting drug and alcohol abuse.
Professor Pat Dudgeon, from the Bardi people of the Kimberley, was the first Aboriginal psychologist to graduate in Australia and is the woman behind Australia’s first national suicide prevention strategy that specifically targets Aboriginals.
She talks to Al Jazeera about the mental state of Australia’s indigenous youth and what can be done to battle the suicide rate.
Al Jazeera: You were the first Aboriginal psychologist to graduate in Australia. What inspired your career path?
Pat Dudgeon: Growing up as an Aboriginal person, I became increasingly aware of the social and historical disadvantage that my people had suffered. I became determined to help them.
I wanted to help people with their mental health problems. Life at times can be very difficult – for some groups more than others. And I felt we needed to heal to become a happier, more positive and functional people.
Al Jazeera: Has anything changed since we spoke to you for our 2012 documentary “Australia’s Lost Generation”?
Dudgeon: Apparently, the national suicide averages have stabilised or even gone down. But for indigenous suicides, there’s been no change; it’s stayed the same and there’s still a lot of suicides happening.
However, I think there’s more awareness. There is a greater voice demanding more programmes, but that isn’t being provided as well as it could be. And also, it’s going to take a while. It’s taken us a long time to get to this point.
Canadian professor Michael Chandler used to say that high youth-suicide rates are, in a sense, the miner’s canary; it tells you that things aren’t good. It’s the sharp end of a very bad situation telling us that things aren’t good in a society. We need to work to turn it around. But for some communities, that might take a long time.
|Pat Dudgeon is determined to help Australia’s Aboriginal youth [Jawahir al-Naimi/Al Jazeera]|
Al Jazeera: Are indigenous children at a greater risk of suffering from mental health issues than their non-indigenous Peers?……………..