Saturday, 24 March 2012

Social Factors in Aboriginal Suicide

Two Australians prominent in the suicide field have advocated the consideration of likely social factors in suicide include the following:
•marital status—suicide is lower among the married, that is, among people enjoying ‘domestic integration’;

•economic cycles—suicide is higher among the unemployed and during an economic depression or stock market crash;
•occupation—lower status and income, poor promotion opportunities and less job satisfaction are more commonly associated with suicide;
•migration—non-English speaking migrants, who adjust less easily to stresses of life, have higher rates than English-speakers;
•ethnicity, as in Aboriginality—where suicide is more common due to ‘devaluation of their culture and self-identity’, together with ‘a sense of anomie, hopelessness, despair and depression’, all aggravated by ‘poverty, economic insecurity, alcoholism and subjection to racism’;
•extent of public welfare—good or adequate social welfare systems have kept non-Aboriginal suicide rates in the ‘middle range’;
•locality—rural suicide is higher than urban, possibly due to downturns in the economy, difficult access to health and welfare facilities, and a ‘macho’ sense of ‘rugged’ self-sufficiency.

Experts suggest two sets of factors: the global and the personal. Amongst the global, high suicide rates are found in countries with a high divorce rate, high youth unemployment, extremely high alcohol intake, a high number of unwanted pregnancies, and low church or religious participation. Personal factors include: death of a family member or close friend, divorce and domestic upheaval, break-up of a relationship, physical or social isolation, excessive use of alcohol and drugs, confusion over sexuality or rejection because of sexuality, and contagion, that is, friends committing suicide, media reports of suicide and musical or sporting heroes taking their own lives.

Not many of the Hassan and Baume factors pertain directly to Aborigines. Formal marriage and divorce do not loom large in Aboriginal life. Nor do unemployment, poor job status or lack of promotional opportunity. Access to health and welfare agencies is not their problem: rather, it is their own rejection of such help. Ruralness or remoteness do not cause problems for Aborigines, since these are the locales in which they have chosen to live, or which they were coerced into ‘choosing’. Unwanted pregnancies are not an issue, since many Aboriginal girls, as young as 13, seek pregnancy as a pathway to an independent income (from the supporting or single-parent benefit). Aborigines may, indeed, be physically and socially isolated from mainstream life, but not from each other. There is much movement between communities which are empathetic towards each other or which have kinship or geographic ties.

Other adverse factors—many of them political—prevail in Aboriginal communities: general poverty, overcrowding or lack of adequate homes for large and often much extended Aboriginal families, low income from social service benefits or the equivalent CDEP payments, chronic and sometimes severe alcohol and drug consumption, constant racism in their contacts with non-Aboriginal society, and the omnipresence of deaths and funerals of kin and friends.

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