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Migrant suicide is lost in translation

"Support can make a difference", says suicide prevention expert Gerry Georgatos

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Suicide prevention researcher Gerry Georgatos

29 April 2016

The statistics are harrowing: more than one in four of Australia's suicides are of people born overseas. The Australian Bureau of Statistics recorded nearly 3,000 cases of suicide in 2014, an increase of around 300 on the preceding annual toll. Among them around 800 are of migrants. According to the ABS,  the rates are higher among Australian residents born in New Zealand, as well as among females coming from Eastern Europe. 

“Many migrants face xenophobia, misoxeny and relentless racism. It varies depending on the migrant group, ” says Gerry Georgatos, offering valuable insight. The activist and suicide prevention researcher, who works for the Institute of Social Justice and Human Rights, issued a statement, addressing the matter and calling for action: "The high suicide rates of many migrant cultures are lost and little is done to respond the unique needs in suicide prevention for Australians who were born overseas, for newly arrived migrants, for the children of migrants”, he says. 

Georgatos warned that collectivised medians, a focus on overall national averages risks masking a true picture of migrant groups with elevated risks. 

“We need more data disaggregation in order to ensure tailored support and awareness-raising. If we do not disaggregate we risk discrimination, we risk making people invisible, elevated risk groups become invisible. We must not leave anyone behind. The disaggregation will allow us to reach those most vulnerable with tailored support”, he adds.

Georgatos said that the underlying factors spiking high rates of mental health issues, depression and suicidal ideation vary from one migrant group to another. "There are myriad hurdles and barriers for some migrant groups in the first few years in Australia as opposed to other migrant groups. Some migrant groups are isolated even within a multicultural urban mass. Their self-worth, self-esteem and sense of being is corralled by the sense of isolation; some feel a sense of hopelessness soon after their arrival. Then there is fundamental among many migrant groups of the excessive burden to deliver on expectations, and many feel a sense of exhaustion, others a sense of failure. The pressures are psychosocially and pyschologically significant and impact the family dynamic, the children. Many of the children of migrants are also levied a suite of expectations, pressure to succeed at levels that across the board non-migrant children do not endure. The quotient of happiness becomes secondary or is distorted and bent into an intertwining with educational, career and material outcomes, expectations."

"Migrating to a new country can be acutely traumatic, for many it can be chronically traumatic, and the situational trauma of relocation needs tailored support and this can only be delivered on the back of awareness raising of the issues. Through awareness raising new meanings dawn, there is an improved contextualising of the evaluation of life experiences. We must do everything possible to ensure that situational trauma does not degenerate into a constancy of traumas - multiple, composite - and as we know for many becomes aggressive complex trauma."

Georgatos also warns that we must disaggregate not only to country of origin but to the means of migration and therefore include refugees who he believes have even more elevated risks to depression and suicidal ideation because "of the damaging experience they endured in immigration detention, some for years."

"Furthermore, racism needs to be better understood by everyone - by its victims and by the perpetrators. Racism gets discussed at the surface level but a deep examination is yet to be had. We have soaked up the racism, the prejudices and misoxeny of the Cronulla riots, we continue to soak up the hatefulness of Islamophobia, the hate of the cultural norms of others, of perceptions of how different peoples appear. Having to soak up all this and then be expected to internalise the silences is toxic and this not only fractures society but dangerously isolates people."

"One in three of Australia's homeless are people who have been born overseas. If we want a future where where we leave no-one behind we need more research and public discussions about the now, so we do not create for generations unborn underclasses of marginalised migrants or of their children coupled with multiple traumas, psychological damage."

In Australia, suicide is the leading cause of death for males and females aged between 15 years and 45 years and the need for a comprehensive system of support and prevention is crucial. Gerry Georgatos is emphatic about the difference support can make: "People need people", he says. "We must never allow any cultural group to become invisible”. 

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