Cultural connectedness is an important part of social and emotional wellbeing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The absence of cultural connection through the impact of colonisation can impact the mental health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and may be a contributing factor to suicide.
A new study led by researchers from the Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention (AISRAP) has investigated how cultural connectedness can aid in preventing suicide, particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth. The study examined suicide mortality data from multiple sources and compared the data against community-level indicators to assess cultural connectedness.
The suicide rate for First Peoples in Australia is significantly higher than the suicide rate for non-Indigenous Australians. 2019 data showed that suicide accounted for 5.7% of all deaths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, compared to 1.9% non-Indigenous Australians1. The presence of protective factors can help to reduce suicide risk for individuals. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, cultural connectedness is recognised as a protective factor against mental ill-health and suicide.
The researchers calculated the suicide rate at 21.1 deaths per 100,000 persons per year for First Nations young people compared to 5.0 deaths per 100,000 persons for non-Indigenous young people.
The research found that at a community-level level, cultural connectedness was associated with lower suicide rates in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth. However, in communities where people experienced more discrimination, suicide rates were found to be significantly higher.
The study highlighted that communities with high levels of cultural social capital were shown to have lower rates of youth suicide. As well, the researchers suggested the increased level of community and cultural connection through cultural events and activities may provide a First Nations young people with a strong cultural identity to support their sense of self during the changes of adolescence, where we see the biggest gaps in the suicide rate between First Nations and non-Indigenous young people.
Research lead and PhD candidate Ms Mandy Gibson from AISRAP said future suicide prevention strategies needed to focus on reducing culturally specific risks such as systemic disadvantage and increasing protective mechanisms.
Ms Mandy Gibson, Research Lead, AISRAP
“We need to support cultural connectedness programs by valuing them as suicide prevention activities. We also need to urgently curb the prevalence of racism and discrimination faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”