Indigenous Australia Opinion

Indigenous youth suicide: Why it's crucial to speak out

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Families living below the poverty line suffer a grim reality that most Australians have no idea about (Image via YouTube)

If we want meaningful change, the stories of families enduring tragic, impoverished lives must not go unheard, writes Gerry Georgatos and Megan Krakouer.

IT SHOULD BE unimaginable that an eleven-year-old is swirled in such bleak despair and hopelessness that their light fades altogether by their own hand — suicide. But it is not unimaginable, as in every year of the last decade we have lost children as young as 12 – and in some of these years, as young as nine, ten and 11– to suicide.

The leading cause of death of Australian children aged ten to 17 is suicide. Children as young as six have made serious attempts on their lives.

Recently, the nation wept at the news of an eleven-year-old girl who took her life following harrowing years of alleged sexual abuse by an alleged predator who at the age she died, was six times her years. 

We were not put on this earth to bury our children and certainly not through the betrayal of suicide. That betrayal is perpetrated by individuated and collective hands — for instance, perpetrators who commit sexual abuse and communities and wider society who do not speak up. 

A few critics have argued the national attention this family received in recent weeks through the media should not have been allowed. We disagree. So does the family.

Only through advocacy and a multitude of voices is there any real hope for any semblance of change and for a flicker of systemic repair. Without advocacy, there is no chance of change. Without media attention, there is no hope for systemic repair, for communal reckoning and for individuated and collectivised restitutions.

Without a multitude of voices, there is no chance of a cultural shift. Without diverse voices, there is no context. Without the voices of the lived experience, there is no truth and where this is the case, herewith is the original sin. 

The most significant proportion of suicides and of suicidality is accounted for by the lowest quintile of income earners. Proportionally, there are more suicides of people from below the poverty line than of people who live above the poverty line. What is likely to contribute to the taking of one’s life above the poverty line is many times more likely to prompt suicide in those living below the poverty line. 

This family, devastated by the loss of their 11-year-old daughter/sister in what should have been the bloom of life, live below the poverty line — in fact, they are acutely impoverished.

The father took his life in April. A salt-of-the-earth single-parent mother – widowed – steadfastly kept her family as solid as one could in her circumstance. With her young family of five children, this strong individual had left her small hometown south of Perth, where she had managed a general store for some years. Upon leaving, she found herself houseless and therefore transient while waiting for public housing. Fifteen thousand applications for public housing in Western Australia languish, translating to about 50,000 individuals of whom three-quarters are children. 

The systemic failures here are too many to list and not the purpose of this article. The message of this article is to explain how imperative it is to speak up; how important it is to shatter silences and to contextualise the grimmest realities that the majority of Australians have no idea about, let alone understand.

There can be no censorship by omission. The principles of proportionality must always prevail. Both strength and deficit-based discourses must be had. There can be no solutions without the unveiling of layers upon layers and within these layers, incidental, sequential, linear and non-linear issues. If sisters and brothers without agency, without voice, are not supported to be heard and understood, they get left behind and have nowhere to go. 

During the last several years, the National Suicide Prevention & Trauma Recovery Project (NSPTRP) has assisted marginalised individuals and families who suffer in ways many who live well above the poverty line would consider insufferable. These assistances have included helping their voices to reach the national consciousness.

Many have received support which otherwise would not have been galvanised if their story had not been told. On the back of some of these stories and cumulatively from all of the stories, small steps have been taken — some funding secured for social support services; funding for community-controlled organisations and the arduous slow-burn of legislative and policy reforms. There is a long way to go and if the unheard remain so, there will be no next steps on this journey. 

We have, since taking the story of this family to the front pages of the nation’s broadsheets, ensured the family has been supported in ways it should have been supported long ago. If that had been the case, a 38-year-old father and an 11-year-old child may still be with us. 

Had we not assisted their wish to take their lived experience to the nation, what would have become of this family?

We believe they would have been torn asunder, dishevelled by easier options that relevant instruments of the state may have chosen — children being removed by protection authorities, their mother left homeless and the alleged child predator still on bail.

We will continue to facilitate the voices of the unheard, where we understand their readiness and capability for this, where we understand that it will validate them and relieve them of internalised grief and other toxicity. The nation should know. People need people. We were also not put on this earth to betray one another.

Gerry Georgatos, the son of CALD migrants, is a suicide prevention and poverty researcher with an experiential focus. He has a Master in Human Rights Education and a Master in Social Justice Advocacy & Civil Rights Arbitration. He is the national coordinator of the National Suicide Prevention & Trauma Recovery Project (NSPTRP). 

Megan Krakouer is a Mineng Noongar woman from Mt Barker in Western Australia’s south-west. Presently, Megan is the director of the National Suicide Prevention & Trauma Recovery (NSPTRP) and also works as a human rights legal practitioner for the National Justice Project.

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