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There is overwhelming evidence that Australian Indigenous peoples' mental health and social and emotional wellbeing is well behind that of other Australians and is a key contributor to the health gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The cumulative effect of inter-generational trauma and 'malignant grief', combined with social and economic disadvantage, has resulted in high rates of psychological distress, substance abuse and self-harm. Suicide rates among Indigenous Australians are a national tragedy. For example, in Western Australia between 2004-2008 Indigenous suicides were triple that of other West Australians.
Similarly, the rate of Aboriginal youth suicide in Canada is a serious problem. However, ongoing research by Professor Michael J. Chandler among Canada's First Nations communities has found that youth suicide is not necessarily an 'Aboriginal' problem per se, but may be a problem for only some communities. The communities that take steps to preserve their cultural past and control their civic lives tend to have fewer suicides. That is, a sense of identity and 'cultural continuity' can help Aboriginal people, and especially youth, to see that they have a future.
Professor Chandler's 2012 Australian lecture tour is timely and important. It will not only inform the important ongoing academic research around cultural continuity and suicide prevention in Aboriginal communities, but also has the potential to influence public debate and government thinking in this critical policy area.
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