Reconciliation and decolonisation in suicide prevention

#BlkRnBow        #db_1974

Guest post from Dameyon Bonson

The founder of LGBTI Indigenous Australian social network Black Rainbow, Dameyon Bonson, pens his thoughts on the lack of solid mental health data available among LGBTI Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

QUITE tragically, as you are reading these first few words there is a high probability somebody will attempt to end their life by suicide. There is even a higher probability that that somebody is part of the LGBTI community, particularly if they are at the point of self-realisation and disclosure. If that person is an Indigenous Australian, the probability amplifies yet again.

How do I know this? Because that’s what the evidence suggests. LGBTI people are said to have the highest rates of self-harm and suicide of any population in Australia. Same-sex attracted Australians are said to exhibit up to 14-times-higher rates of suicide attempts than their heterosexual peers. Yet, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there were 996 suicides reported across Australia between 2001 and 2010 among Indigenous peoples. We are told that 1.6 per cent of all Australians die by suicide but for Indigenous peoples, this rate is more than 4.2 per cent, or one in every 24.

As mentioned, the evidence only suggests this because we are coalescing the data from two different groups and hypothesising the maths. In other words we aren’t really sure.

However, when we aggregate the data for the Kimberley region and take one particular town during 2012, there were 40 young people who died by suicide. That’s nearly 100 times the national average. Now, I’m not suggesting that these young people were members of the LGBTI community. However, when the social determinants affecting Aboriginal people are seen as a causation of suicidality, the question does have to be asked, what is the amplified risk if they are LGBTI?

To explore what happens when the Indigenous and LGBTI world comes together, intersectionality theory is a way of understanding and uncovering any potential health inequalities. It is also a great way to highlight those previously unknown, caused by a kaleidoscope of social inequalities, whether it be race, gender, class, and/or sexuality.

For the LGBTI community, homophobia, either perceived or actual, is a precursor to one’s level of psychological distress. And if, as suggested, same-sex attracted Australians are up to 14 times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers, then homophobia, transphobia, cisgenderism, biphobia, sexism, and hetereosexist behaviours play a big part in how well someone lives, and someone dying.

For Indigenous Australians, other factors are at play and overlaid. These include racism, social location, socioeconomic disparities and intergenerational trauma. The psychological distress caused by these determinants can lead to complex mental health and drug and alcohol issues, such as manifestations of violence toward oneself (self-harm) or others: domestic, family and lateral violence.

So I have raised and discussed the issues and attempted to converse about the tragedy of suicide in the least sensational or emotive way. So where to from here? I’d like to know, because I don’t have the answers. However, I do have some starting points. First, I’m going go start by sharing with you a quote. A quote that is often referred to as the Lila Watson quote: “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting our time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

Participating with the view of being part of the liberation of Indigenous people is the single most overlooked and fundamental principle of genuinely inclusive work. Being part of the liberation is also knowing when you are required and a good indication of that is when you have been asked. Don’t let an over-zealous sense of entitlement to charity or benevolence be your motivation. Also pay attention to the research. Cultural continuity is a protective factor to suicide.

The great Writing Themselves In series, Growing Up Queer report and the current research by Dr Delaney Skerritt provides opportunity for us, as Indigenous researchers and members of the Indigenous LGBTI community, to come up with strengthening solutions. The time is ripe for those who are willing to come on this journey with us, to support us and share your resources with us. I personally believe that the issues facing the Indigenous LGBTI community, once identified and workshopped to discover actions to respond, can be added as an amendment or appendant to national strategies and health plans. Structures already exist for us to coexist within. And if the collaborative work is underpinned by liberation, an enhanced sense of reconciliation can truly happen within the LGBTI community.

Dameyon Bonson is an Indigenous researcher and consultant, mental health researcher and convenor of Black Rainbow Australia. Follow him on Twitter: @db_1974

You can also follow Black Rainbow on Twitter or like their Facebook page.

Support is available for anyone who may need it. Phone Qlife 1800 184 527, Lifeline 13 11 14 or beyondblue 1300 22 4636.

**This article first appeared in the August issue of the Star Observer.

Defeated in a cruel game

Waleed Aly

In Kafka’s Australia, chilling bureaucratic violence against asylum seekers breaks them down slowly.

SO THIS is what ”no advantage” looks like. We have barely started sending asylum seekers to Nauru and already there has been an attempted suicide. By hanging, according to the psychiatrist who reported it. The end result was that three more asylum seekers opted to return home rather than face our immigration system.

That brings the tally of voluntary returns to about 40 – 40 people who decided the situation was so grim, so hopeless that they were better off returning to the place they were fleeing.

There’s something chilling about the government citing these as ”steps forward”, but that’s the logic of deterrence. It means we have to take the misery that produces asylum seekers, then raise it. And since we can’t simply inflict direct violence on detainees, we have to do it in more subtle ways, namely by destroying their sense of hope. That’s why people are attempting suicide so quickly, because we’re telling them they are going to Nauru to languish, not to be processed.

But it turns out that’s not all we are telling them. We are also telling them they should just give up. This week, ABC radio’s PM revealed that Immigration Department officials are rejecting some asylum seekers on the basis of an informal verbal interview. No application. No lawyer. No hearing. No process really. Just the uninformed, premature judgment of a bureaucrat trying to dispense with an irritant.

It’s the very definition of insidious. So insidious the department has even given it a euphemistic, bureaucratic name, ”screening out”, as though it’s a routine classification process. ”Any person who is screened out progresses towards removal from Australia,” a media release from the department says. Progresses. Like they’re getting somewhere. Sounds better than ”shunted back home without a hearing” or ”dumped in detention limbo”, which is what it actually means.

The idea is so brazen: to trade on the ignorance and powerlessness of asylum seekers. It’s not that asylum seekers lose their rights. They don’t. At least in theory they retain the right to apply for refugee status. They have the right to a lawyer. But if you are ”screened out”, you are not told this. If you happen to know it, and have the inordinate confidence to call an immigration official’s bluff, good for you. If not, your rights are pretty much rhetorical. ”If anyone in immigration detention requests access to a lawyer, we facilitate that request,” the department says. You just have to assert rights you don’t know you have.

Welcome to Kafka’s Australia, where rights are guaranteed, but preferably forgotten. So we maintain that we respect due process and human rights, even if it’s clear we don’t always like them very much. We have been doing this for ages. ”Screening out” has been around for the best part of a decade; long enough for the department to call it a ”long-standing policy over successive governments”.

And if you believe the lawyers who work in this area, it’s part of a number of bureaucratic practices designed to prevent asylum seekers accessing the few rights they have.

You can’t ban asylum seekers from having access to lawyers, but you can insist they fill out a specific form if they want one, and then refuse to give them the form. You can limit the time lawyers have with their clients to make their work impossible. And if they manage to apply, you can delay the process by using translators who speak the wrong language, or who belong to rival ethnic groups. It’s like the dictation test of the White Australia period, which could be in Swahili if the immigration official wanted you to fail.

What explains this bureaucratic violence? Telling asylum seekers their claim is rejected without a hearing doesn’t ”send a message to people smugglers” or ”break the people smugglers’ business model”. Obstructing access to a lawyer doesn’t deter people from getting on boats. It just breaks them slowly. These are not policies that have been debated in Parliament and have clearly articulated purposes. They don’t need to be. They arise by osmosis.

Reflecting on the infamous Abu Ghraib prison scandal, Stanford University psychologist Philip Zimbardo observed that such things become possible when the perpetrators feel anonymous, when they don’t have a sense of personal responsibility for their actions, and have tacit approval from authority figures. And the obvious differences between Nauru and Abu Ghraib aside, isn’t that what’s happening here?

This is a culture of belligerence, trickling down from the political leadership. Again, just like White Australia. It’s a culture that sees the sneaky denial of rights as a virtue. A culture that sheds tears for those who die at sea trying to get here, but barely blinks when people are killed after being sent home. A culture that watches a detainee attempt suicide, and dozens of people give up on the idea of asylum, and then chalks it up as a win.

Waleed Aly writes fortnightly. He hosts Drive on ABC Radio National and is a lecturer in politics at Monash University.

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