‘Professor Martin Graham, from the University of Queensland, is a psychiatrist who has studied suicide extensively for more than 20 years and is perhaps the nation’s top expert on suicide.
He believes dominant Western medical views are “overly simplistic” and insufficient in explaining suicide, Aboriginal or otherwise. Like Professor Tatz, he has many theories around why Aborigines suicide, but no clear answers.
“I suppose you could put forward a number of reasons - the classic sort of white Australian understanding would be that these are depressed individuals that have suffered some kind of loss and can’t get help for that and/or they are abusing medications or drugs.”
"But I think what my understanding is - there is a deep sadness among Aboriginal peoples and that that translates to a sense of anomie perhaps. A kind of deep sense of sadness and boredom and dispiritedness relating to loss of land, loss of culture, loss of languages in some cases and a sense that none of it can be changed.”
“So despite all of the government money going in, despite all of assistance that has been offered, despite a whole range of programs like the Life Promotion Program, for instance, this sense of deep despair remains and Norm [Sheehan] would track it back and say it’s probably related to a sense of distress at the genocide that was perpetuated by white Australians from 1788.”
“That kind of makes sense to me but it kind of doesn’t make sense to me because if you believe another group is trying to kill you off surely what you do is fight that and try to stay alive and live longer than the bastards?”
Like his co-researcher Dr Sheehan, Professor Martin, too, stresses the importance of culture. He also believes in the improvement of relationships within Aboriginal communities:
“What actually works is helping the community to revive itself and improve connectedness between family clan groupings.”
Professor Martin disagrees with Stuart’s view that traditional Aborigines, and in turn the culture, will necessarily die out. He looks at other colonised cultures for evidence. “If you go to people in Canada to talk about Inuit suicide, they believe they have some very profound ways of turning cultures around, turning communities around and reducing the suicide rate,” he said.
Professor Martin refers to the research by Canadians Dr Michael Chandler and Dr Chris Lalonde on Inuit people:
“Essentially Michael Chandler believes that there are a range of aspects of community that need to be corrected to ensure that a community runs itself drawing on its own strength and culture. He said if you put all of those things into place then that reduces suicide and he has very strong evidence for that.”
“There were a number of changes in the Inuit community but it was about taking over community life and running it. You know dealing with issues around the status of women, ensuring that children were brought up in a culturally appropriate way.”
“That’s nothing to do with clinical depression or anti-depressants. It’s about recovering if you like or regaining cultural knowledge or experience and direction and I think that is actually what it is about.”
“In Australia I don’t think we are yet doing it.”’