Griffith University: Indigenous languages and cultural connection may help lower First Nations young peoples’ suicide

Greater engagement and involvement with cultural events, ceremonies, and Indigenous languages is associated with lower suicide mortality rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people in Queensland according to new Griffith University research.

A study published in the Online Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health found even the most disadvantaged areas experienced lower suicide rates when indicators of cultural connection were higher.

Researchers from the Australian Institute of Suicide Research and Prevention analysed suicide rates of the average yearly number of suicide deaths per 100,000 persons among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people aged 15-24 from 2001 to 2015.

They found that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young peoples’ deaths by suicide were 46.91 per 100,000 persons, a rate nearly four times higher than non-Indigenous young people during this period.

Lead researcher Ms Mandy Gibson said the study showed that Indigenous languages, cultural practices and engagement with community may buffer or mitigate the impacts of Indigenous disadvantage, most notably on experiences of racism and discrimination.

“Even in areas with the least socioeconomic resources and where First Nations People experienced more discrimination, community cultural connection was associated with 36% and 47% lower suicide rates respectively,’’ she said.

“In remote regional areas, and again in areas with the most discrimination, higher Indigenous language use was associated with 26% and 34% lower suicide rates.

“This research provides initial evidence for using cultural practices and engagement as a treatment mechanism or part of suicide prevention strategies.”

First Peoples die by suicide at more than twice the rate of other people in Australia, with young people particularly overrepresented. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people are more likely to reside in communities that experience known risk factors for youth suicide generally, including poverty, socioeconomic disadvantage and limited access to opportunities and services as the social and environmental legacies of colonisation.

“Therefore, in terms of suicide prevention specifically, understanding protective factors that promote resilience against suicide or buffer the influence of contextual risk factors is key to developing effective intervention models,’’ Ms Gibson said.

“This research reflects what Elders have long advised, that cultural strengths have a unique protective role in addressing the harms caused by colonisation.”

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