Gerry Georgatos has responded to suicide attempts of Indigenous children from ages six to 14.
The youngest suicide was that of a nine year old. He was there to support the family.
The death of a child is indicative of serious underlying societal issues. While Georgatos says factors like intergenerational trauma compound the issue, the main driver is poverty.
“The majority of suicides all around the world globally and in Australia are poverty stresses, proximity to the poverty line and the compounding stress of single parenthood, the number of kids, other factors that playout.
“In Australia two-thirds of suicide are of people living in proximity to the poverty line and socio-economic disadvantage.
“It’s about lack of agency, lack of capability, lack of education, lack of financial resources.”
Georgatos is the National Coordinator of the National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery Project, suicide prevention researcher, advocate and human rights campaigner. He’s dedicated the last decade of his life to research and suicide prevention and its “indisputable intersection with poverty.”
Over the years he’s worked with more than 1000 suicide-affected families and hundreds of First Nations families. He journeys personally to their communities to talk, heal and mourn. In one community he attended the funerals of three children in five days.
Georgatos says there is an undeniable similarity between them all.
“I responded to 88 of the suicides earlier this year and 85 were below the poverty line. Eighty-three of them were in public housing. That poverty narrative is indisputable.
“Nearly 100% of First Nations suicides are below the poverty line. Above the poverty line it’s almost negligible, much lower Indigenous loss above the poverty line.”
For families with children, an income of less than $895 per week is considered living below the poverty line. Studies show that 56% of Indigenous households are living on less than $620 per week compared to the non-Indigenous population at 38%.
“It is about reducing poverty, in particular the extreme poverty. The more the hardships, the more the poverty, the more the crushing that poverty the higher the suicide rates.”
Indigenous youth face significant challenges in remote communities in particular where rates of poverty are higher and average household income is 18% lower.
“In the remote living circumstance, 8 out of 10 First Nations children will not complete school. The majority will not attend primary school. There are no secondary schools in the majority of First Nations remote communities.”
In 2016-17, half of Indigenous Australians were living in public housing, the number having risen by a third since 2008-09. The number of Indigenous households in community housing more than doubled from 2,700.
“The majority of First Nations suicides, just about all of them, are in public housing rentals and social housing. Up to seven out of 10 children living in public housing rentals, even in the city masses where you’ve got proximity to opportunities like education, schools and the like, will not go to school.
“The increasing youth suicide for Indigenous youth is of youth living train-wreck lives below the poverty line and seeing no hope on the horizon.
“The more the hardships, the more the poverty, the more the crushing that poverty.”
“There’s about 160 suicides, First Nations, nationally [each year]. We will exceed that this year. We’ve already passed the 100 mark, and we’re trending to 200 for the first time for First Nations.
“To reduce the suicide rates, we’ve got to reduce the poverty rates.”
Later this year Georgatos is speaking at the Australian Youth Suicide Prevention Summit where he will share the findings and achievements of the National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery Project, psychosocial trauma recovery-led suicide preventions, early intervention and validating trauma.
“It is important that we all educate and share understandings and come together and collaborate. I want to see an end to the gatekeeper-ings. If we’re not out there talking about this stuff then it’s censorship by omission. We’ve all got to come together and work together at forums, conferences, are the best way to bring us together in collaboration and to challenge the discourse of the debate.”
The Australian Youth Suicide Prevention Conference is running at CQ Functions Melbourne from 12 – 15 November 2019. The event draws together organisations from across sectors including healthcare, government, NGOs, education and psychology services, in a first of its kind national multi-sector event dedicated to addressing and preventing youth suicide.
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, please call 000 or visit your nearest hospital emergency.
Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800
Headspace: 1800 650 890
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467