One Death is Too Many

Isn’t it time to raise awareness about suicide within the African Community in South Australia?

Although the occurrence of suicide is not commonplace within the African Community in South Australia, it is equally not unheard of either. Few incidents of suicide have been reported via social media or by Community leaders of Africans who have tragically taken their own lives. The question is, why is it that little or no attention is brought to discussing suicide within the African Community SA, even though suicide is one of the leading causes of death in Australia and worldwide?

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that, globally, suicide accounts for more deaths than all wars and natural disasters combined – approximating that 800,000 people take their own lives each year.

It is estimated by WHO that for every person who commits suicide, there are roughly more than 20 people that may have attempted suicide. In 2015, suicide accounted for 1.9% of all causes of death in Australia.

On any given day in 2015, an average of 8.3 people ended their own lives – that’s 1 person every 3 hours! In that same year, 3,027 suicide deaths were reported (almost 13 per 100,000 people) – 2,292 males (over 19 per 100,000) and 735 females (over 6 per 100,000). Historically in Australia, the year 1963 recorded the highest rate of suicide deaths in Australia, peaking at 17.5 deaths per 100,000 people. From this period onwards, while the suicide rate has fluctuated, it has remained lower.

Though Indigenous Australians record the highest rate of suicide – more than twice the general population (25.5 per 100,000 versus 12.5 per 100,000) – it is also reported that men, those who have previously attempted suicide, migrants of refugee background, substance (drug and alcohol) abusers, and people with complex mental health conditions present a higher risk for committing suicide.

People with complex mental health problems record a suicide rate 10-40 times more than the general population. Gender-specific data has shown that the rate of suicide is higher among men than women. Indeed, men are 3 times more likely to commit suicide than women; however, there is still a proliferation of women committing suicide, with the rate as high as 26%. People with conditions such as schizophrenia, major depression, bipolar disorder and eating disorders, among others, have suicide rates far and above any other group in Australia.

Migrants or people born overseas account for more than a quarter of suicide deaths. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data shows that roughly 600 people who were born overseas commit suicide annually. In 2014, of the 2,864 (over 12 per 100,000) suicides which occurred nationally, individuals born overseas accounted for 800.

People who commit suicide may have different reasons for ending their own lives. In some cases, the reasons may not be disclosed; and if they are, it may be too personal for family members to disclose it for fear that it might bring unwarranted shame and attention upon them. This may explain why I couldn’t speak with survivors or families of victims from the African Community SA after several attempts.

When people contemplate suicide, it is not out of a passion to die; it is about having no hope, nothing to live for. The notion of “How do I keep going on like this?” – the overwhelming thoughts that one’s challenges are insurmountable so therefore living is meaningless. Older people may commit suicide due to ill health – not wanting to be a burden on other people if they have lost their abilities or have mental health problems, and so on. Irrespective of what people’s reasons for suicide may be, research has shown that survivors of suicide posit that a significant barrier in seeking help is a feeling of shame and stigma associated with discussing their intentions to commit suicide or the reasons thereof with others. Having someone to trust and connect with can be a life-saving opportunity. Enabling a community to develop that is oriented on trust and support for each other is critical.

Another factor promoting suicide is silence. Some survivors of suicide note that they often feel a sense of distrust so they may keep silent. When people who contemplate suicide talk to someone they often do not commit suicide.

The most effective and efficient way to prevent suicide is to create awareness about services available to support people who contemplate suicide beforehand; or to treat the underlying reasons or conditions for which they aim to commit suicide. Put simply, we need to talk about it more as a community.

For those with mental health conditions, a better way to seek treatment is to seek professional help from a counsellor or psychologist; and, if one doesn’t work out, try others. Be your brother’s keeper – watch out for your mate as we may pick up on the challenges or changes in people’s lives if we watch out for them.

The aforementioned statistical descriptions are national representations which do not necessarily reflect the trend in every migrant community. As a matter of fact, the rate of suicide is reported to be lowest within the African, Middle Eastern and Asian Communities. While this may sound like good news for the African Community, drastic caution should be taken, as no valid evidence is obtainable to support this assertion, or to underline the specific factors that support such conclusions.

Despite Australia being a multicultural and pro-migration country wherein about 28% of Australians were born overseas, with another 25% being second generation Australians, most research about suicide at the national level excludes migrants, including Africans. On consideration that a large proportion of Africans (sub-Saharan) in Australia are of refugee background, the fact that little is known about the mental health of Africans, coupled with the lack of research on suicide among Africans, are all challenges capable of producing noxious consequences in the long term for Africans, such as increasing the risk of suicide over time unless a concerted effort is implemented to ensure otherwise.

My fear, however, is that experience has suggested that the African Community is both too passive and too reactive to ever implement any form of proactive measure to address this problem; thus, a future of increased suicide is inevitable. If one death is too many, then we need to be proactive by leading awareness and using other forms of affordable interventions to prevent suicide. It would be cheaper and easier at this stage to make big achievements in reducing suicide through awareness, but harder if the risk factors deteriorate.

In conclusion, though I was unable to describe the scope of suicide within the African Community of SA, this was predominantly due to the lack of specific data on Africans and the difficulty in speaking with family members of victims of suicide or survivors of suicide. Nonetheless, this does not eradicate the need to increase awareness about suicide. A shift in our understanding and imagination of suicide is required. The way forward would be to consider engaging religious and Community leaders and other community groups to diversify the Community agenda to include awareness about the risk factors of suicide. Remember that one life is too many and that early intervention or awareness can produce significantly positive consequences.

Many thanks to Megs Lamb who provided me with insightful information on the topic. Megs works with the Multicultural Communities Council of SA (MCCSA) and runs a project on suicide awareness. Megs and her team are encouraging Africans to join their committee, and are willing to run information sessions and awareness campaigns with community groups, or provide information to individuals. Contact details:

Every Life Matters – Salisbury Suicide Prevention Network

If you or someone you know needs help, call:

Lifeline on 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467
Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978

Steve came to Australia in 2010 from Liberia and is currently completing his honours in Health Sciences at the University of Adelaide. He is also a volunteer with Multipurpose Media Inc.

1 Comment

  • Reply May 16, 2017

    Solomon Karbiah

    Great work,
    Thanks Brother More is needed.

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