Does community cultural connectedness reduce the influence of area disadvantage on Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander young peoples’ suicide?

By Mandy Gibson, Jaimee Stuart, Stuart Leske, Raelene Ward, Yogi Vidyattama

Published 11 Nov 2021

Context

The rate of suicide of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is more than two times higher than non-Indigenous Australians, with young people particularly over-represented. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people are more likely to reside in communities that experience known risk factors to suicide more generally, such as socioeconomic disadvantage, rural areas, and discrimination.

There is evidence that cultural connectedness may buffer the relationship between risk factors and suicide behaviours, but it is unknown whether cultural connectedness protects against suicide mortality even in communities experiencing the most social disadvantage.

Research and findings

Data sourced from the Queensland Suicide register was used to calculate age-specific suicide rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people (15-24 years) from 2001-2015.

Suicide rates were compared between communities experiencing high levels of disadvantage (as indicated by having low socioeconomic resources, regional and remote areas, and high levels of discrimination) in relation to cultural connectedness.

Cultural connectedness indicators were cultural social capital, such as involvement in cultural events, ceremonies or organisations, sporting, social or community activities, and Indigenous language use.

In communities classified as having low socioeconomic resources and areas where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experienced more discrimination, having higher levels of cultural social capital was associated with 36% and 47% lower suicide rates respectively for Indigenous young people.

Within remote and regional areas, higher levels of community language-use was associated with 26% lower suicide rates, and in communities experiencing more discrimination, language-use was associated with 34% lower rates.

These findings indicate a protective effect of cultural connectedness even in communities experiencing high levels of social disadvantage.

Implications

These findings provide support for trialling strategies to reduce Indigenous suicide deaths through enriching and maintaining cultural practices and facilitating cultural expression. Engaging cultural practices facilitates healing through cultural and community sense of belonging, esteem, meaning and interconnectedness.

The authors note that data were not available for important indicators such as access to culturally safe mental health services or community control of policing, education and child protection. There is a need for data development to be led and owned by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities to effectively measure the critical cultural, social and environmental determinants of Indigenous wellbeing.