Christmas a vulnerable time for Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders

Professor Pat Dudgeon

A leading Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention body has warned that Christmas is a susceptible time for both young and old in the community who may struggle with expectations of the festive holiday period.

National Senior Consultant to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project (ATSISPEP), Bunuba woman Adele Cox, said that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders aged 20 to 29 years have the highest suicide rate in the nation and are particularly vulnerable at this time of year.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders aged 15 to 35 years are also at high risk, with one in three deaths in this age group a suicide,” Cox says.

“Research shows that during the Christmas holiday period these age groups in particular are most vulnerable – often they are parents who are not able to provide adequate food on Christmas Day or who are not able to afford gifts for their children.

“This time of year is often referred to as ‘the silly season’ and sadly, past experience has told us there is an increase in substance related violence and other disputes which are upsetting and we should be mindful of this and keep a watch on family and community members,” she says.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders aged 20 to 29 years have the highest suicide rate in the nation, with those aged 15 to 19 years also prone to severe depression and suicide during the Christmas period.

“In general, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have a suicide rate six times higher than their non-Aboriginal counterparts, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young men a rate four and a half times higher,” Cox says.

“Last year, in the Kimberley region alone sadly there was a significant increase in the suicide and self-injury rates during the Christmas period, with the loss of a 12-year-old the day before Christmas.”

Indigenous Mental Health Commissioner and ATSISPEP project leader, Bardi woman Professor Pat Dudgeon (pictured), says families and community leaders should keep an eye on the young and old during the Christmas and summer period.

“There is so much more stress around Christmas and the holiday season along with hype about special foods, decorations and gifts to buy, which for many people are beyond their budgets,” Prof Dudgeon says.

“For many people it can be an especially lonely period where they no longer have their loved ones around – the spirit of Christmas should not be about consumerism, but about peace and goodwill.

“For Indigenous people, cultural identity is the foundation of who we are and our Elders have been fundamental in this process.

“They are our wisdom-keepers and a vital bridge between the modern world and Aboriginal culture,” she says.

ATSISPEP community consultant and suicide prevention researcher, Gerry Georgatos says it is important that people were helped before they reached breaking point.

“The next two months are difficult months for many, we’ve got to get through them together and hopefully we are all the stronger for this,” he says.

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