Australia to act over 'frightening' suicide rate among Aborigines

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The Independent Online

Such is the despair among young Aborigines in the towns that dot the Kimberley region of Western Australia that the indigenous suicide rate is nearly three times that of white people in the area.

Since last December, 11 Aboriginal people in the Kimberley have killed themselves – a statistic that one senior health official described as " frightening". Now the federal government is funding emergency measures to address the problem, funnelling millions of dollars into programmes aimed at preventing people from taking their own lives.

In addition, a special conference on the issue is to be held in July, bringing together politicians, social workers, community elders and young people. The Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler, said: "The tragic number of recent suicides in the Kimberley region has been particularly worrying."

Indigenous communities in the area suffer from a catalogue of problems, including high unemployment, poor housing and drug and alcohol abuse. Added to that are boredom, low self-esteem among Aboriginal people and a loss of traditional culture.

The new funds are to be invested in improved psychological services for indigenous communities and in related education and training.

Mary Victor O'Reeri, who has lost two brothers in recent months, said their suicides had left massive holes in their children's lives. "Looking at my niece and nephew, they're not complete because they don't have their dads with them," she told The Australian. "I see the empty space that they carry for the rest of their life."

Most of those who have killed themselves were under 30, and did not seek help before they died. "They don't express their feelings," said Raj Koppula, the Catholic priest in the Kimberley town of Kununurra. "So that, I think, hurts them within themselves and leads to suicide."

The problem is not new. In 2006, a special inquest was held into the suicides of 21 Aboriginal people in the Kimberley. The coroner, Alastair Hope, concluded that the delivery of health and education services to remote indigenous communities was "seriously flawed".