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Byron Shire
April 20, 2024

Historical trauma, old men and suicide

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Many years ago, I researched and prepared a descriptive and reflective analysis of Aboriginal youth suicide. 

I was then, and remain now, alarmed about the rate of Aboriginal youth suicide and what drives the young to choose death over life.

I’ve always been concerned about the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal men in particular, and men generally, and to develop a better understanding of what men were experiencing in an ever-changing world. 

I designed and hosted a number of men’s gatherings, where I sat in talking and sharing circles with other men, including Dr Mark Winatong, and non-Aboriginal friends and colleagues, such as Jeff McMullen and Professor Garry Egger, to hear the stories of men’s journeys as they talked openly about the low and high points of their life. 

The men who attended these gatherings were sons, brothers, uncles, husbands, grandfathers and partners, and all of us were flawed in some way, filled with grief and regrets, but determined to be, and do better, as men. 

The men ranged in age from late teens to older men in the 70s or 80s, some of whom were Elders with years of accumulated life experiences and wisdom. 

The diversity between and within the men served to enrich us, and we worked hard to ensure that difference didn’t divide us.

It was a real struggle to secure funding support to host these gatherings, and numerous meetings with Aboriginal Affairs NSW and the NSW Department of Health were fruitless. 

We were in fact told that there were no votes in men’s health and wellbeing. 

What confused and distressed us was that this message was delivered by other men in positions of political and bureaucratic power and influence; we naively thought that they, as men, would be supportive.

Funding was finally secured through Commonwealth sources, but only if we were prepared to include leadership in the focus of the gatherings. 

The men who attended these gatherings were not necessarily motivated by concepts of leadership, but if including leadership as a focus of the gathering would secure funding support, then we would include it. 

However, one issue that kept emerging during these gathering was historical trauma, and how it affected the mental health of Indigenous men, including associated illnesses such as suicide or suicide ideation. 

How does this crisis of mental health, and suicide manifest and is it an issue across the generations?

Data from the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) illustrate a situation involving suicide and older male Australians that should be of urgent concern to all Australians. 

The ABS stats show that for men over 85, the rate of suicide is more than three times the national average. Not enough work is being done to better understand why old men are suiciding at such a rate. 

Perhaps it is a callous and heartless belief that old men are at death’s door anyway, so why should we be overly concerned about something that is inevitable? 

Of course, we are all faced with this inevitability, but surely this doesn’t mean that we should not be concerned and support the aged as their mortal journey draws to a close. 

♦ Bob Morgan is is a highly respected and acknowledged Aboriginal educator/researcher who has worked extensively throughout Australia and internationally in the field of Aboriginal knowledge and learning for over forty years.


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2 COMMENTS

  1. If this was what is seems it was, there should definitely be more of it, and I would happily join in.

  2. How many of those deaths by “suicide” amongst men over 85, of all races, might actually be because they needed assisted voluntary euthanasia – but could not access it?

    Do you know the answer Bob?

    If not, can you please look into it and report back to us all what you can (or cannot) find out about this.

    Please tell us about the figures for all men, of all races.

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