I am reading strong evidence for the need to connect indigenous peoples to their culture to prevent suicide.
Here are excerpts from an article by Kate Horowitz writing for the independent media Crikey.
Kate starts her article with the following statements:
‘Aboriginal suicide first emerged in Australian records in 1960s. In the 1980s, there was a surge of Aboriginal suicide starting with adults, then young adults and now, 30 years later, children.
Suicide among Aboriginal communities is now three to four times the rate of non-Aboriginal suicide. Aboriginal people commit suicide, on average, at a far younger age than non-Aboriginal Australians, with reports of prepubescent children, some as young as eight committing suicide.
The rise in suicide in recent decades is not a solitary phenomenon — it is happening around the globe to many colonised races. The Inuit people of Canada, Native Americans and New Zealand Maoris are exhibiting the same behavioural patterns.’
Here are the views of Dr Norm Sheehan on the relationship between suicide and culture:
‘Dr Norm Sheehan, from Swinburne University of Technology, runs Link-Up, a social and emotional well-being project based on connective art and yarning circles.
Dr Sheehan is a fair-skinned Aborigine who was raised in Catholic missions and has completed a doctorate in psychology, and post-doctoral research into psychiatry and social emotional well-being. Like Stuart, he believes bringing culture back to the Aboriginal person will provide a sense of identity and satisfaction, and reduce the risk of suicide ideation.
“There is a strong connection between cultural cohesion, cultural connection and social emotional well-being,” he said.
Dr Sheehan worked alongside professor Graham Martin and Dr Karoline Krysinka to complete the study Identity, voice, place: suicide prevention for Indigenous Australians - A social and emotional well-being approach with the University of Queensland. The study looks at effective suicide prevention programs for Aboriginal people.
“We looked at studies in Canada, New Zealand and Australia that look at the social emotional causation. We have found that studies in other places showed that cultural disconnection was a major cause of suicide especially amongst Aboriginal youth,” Dr Sheehan explained.
“So you look at Aboriginal kids who are separated from their culture, who are called Aboriginal, treated as Aboriginals but have no understanding of what being Aboriginal is - it’s an incredible conflict to carry and there is no real cultural education happening."
"The knowledge of Aboriginal culture is very significant for Aboriginal communities as they take away the doubt and they bring a positive cultural perspective to people who have been deprived of that cultural perspective."
"Identity and selfhood are important for emotional well-being. Australia has historically denied these basic human needs to Aboriginal people."
"Aboriginal people were deprived of a true understanding of self because their biological make-up was seen as an impediment something that had to be erased. That’s a crime against humanity."
"But Aboriginal people have had to live with that legacy and develop a concept of self in a zone like that, so understanding what culture is in that context is almost impossible.”
Dr Sheehan sees suicide as the direct result of colonialism: “Colonialism is a set of ideas that still exists today in various forms, definitely as an ideology. Colonialism deprives the colonised of positive self-images and for me, that’s a crucial part of the Aboriginal experience."
“I am a believer in narrative therapies and narrative counselling … with the stuff I do with the images, is it opens up spaces for the narrative and the sharing of stories and everybody who’s a being, who’s an identity, has a got a personal story."
"What deprives Aboriginal people is that crucial elements to that personal story. Then if you were to feel a little bit alone and a little bit lost and a little bit traumatised, the thing you go to in your life is those personal stories."
"Now if you don’t have one or the one you have is conflicted, then you’re at the end of the rope. Potentially there is no safety net if you don’t have that sort of emotional structuring in your life.”
Dr Sheehan says colonial ideology is still rife in Australian culture today. But forming and shaping a cultural identity for Aborigines may provide them with support and backing against future damage.
“So what we do is we prepare our communities for future devastations so we are not talking about a cure, because perpetration is continuing,” he said.
Dr Sheehan also says suicidal thoughts stem from feelings of isolation in a racist climate and cultural denigration: “If you are discriminated against based on race, that has an incredibly alienating impact on people. It’s a very strong stressor in people’s lives."
"Some people say suicide is in some way a protest or a political action, and I don’t agree with that. Those sorts of statements come from people who haven’t experienced the personal desolation that comes with being treated differently, that comes with things about yourself you can’t change."
"You’ll find obese kids who are bullied at school have a high rate of self-harm and suicide because they are treated in a particular way because of things about themselves they can’t change, and it’s the same for Aboriginal people and people of colour around the world."
They are treated in a particular way because of something that has no bearing on their morality, intelligence or anything else. They can just be used to discriminate against them.
"That sort of power does cause people to harm; experiencing that power is a devastating personal experience. Particularly when there is no power to respond.”'
These are powerful words from Norm Sheehan and what he says makes a whole lot of sense to me. I’ll follow up with more from this article tomorrow, but you can always read the original article now.