It’s every parent’s worst nightmare.
For the parents of Amy Dolly Everett, that nightmare became a reality earlier this month when their 14-year-old daughter took her own life.
Described as a “kind, caring and beautiful soul”, it has since come to light that Amy was subjected to incessant cyber-bullying.
For Gerry Georgatos, a suicide prevention researcher and the National Coordinator Support Advocates for the National Indigenous Critical Response Service Unit, youth suicide is something he has come to face more times than he can count. Just last year, he found himself attending to the family of a 9-year-old Indigenous boy who took his life in central Queensland, and prior to that the attempted suicide of three Indigenous children, the youngest of which was just six years old.
He says the issue has reached a critical point, with more young people dying by suicide than any other unnatural cause, dubbing it “the pressing issue of our times”.
In 2015, suicide was the leading cause of death of children aged five to 17 years. Newly arrived migrants, and children born to migrants are at greater risk, while 80 per cent of child suicides aged 12 years and under are of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander background – a particularly harrowing figure given they make up just 2.8 per cent of the total population. Mr Georgatos estimates these numbers to be higher, due to under reporting.
Contributing factors for youth at risk include bullying, mobbing, diminution of the self, difficult childhoods, and impossible expectations placed on young people, but all the research reveals the socio-economic narrative as the predominant factor, which has a trickle-down effect.
“Whether they come from impoverished families, families who are struggling, single-parent families, or where there isn’t enough time to invest in the child,” he explains.
“So there’s a lot of displaced anger.
“It’s harder to navigate the world financially and economically than it was 20, 30, or 40 years ago, so it’s not the same circumstance.”
While the Turnbull government has invested in outreach programs and anti-bullying campaigns, Mr Georgatos says that for a country that’s the 12th largest economy on the planet the situation is harrowing.
“I get disgusted when politicians come out and say ‘we’ve got to do more about this’. They’re the ones with the agency,” he says.
“One government after another is responsible for the degradation of those who are poorest. It’s an abomination that we’ve got communities, hundreds of them that are South Africa apartheid-akin communities that I’ve seen with my own eyes, and that shocks me. Communities where no child completes an education, and have no prospects, there’s very little to do in these communities and negative behaviours become pronounced.”
Meanwhile, when it comes to bullying, he recommends the federal government takes a similar approach to the anti-smoking campaign, and subsequent legislation, which over time has had a significant impact in curbing smoking and its impacts.
“It’s gotta be the same with bullying along with tailor-made education of what parents should be on the lookout for, how they should respond, who they should deal with, who they should turn to, how they should engage with their children – for both the victim and the perpetrator,” he urges.
Adding to that, he says a cultural shift is needed, with the media playing a critical role in not shying away from telling the stories of families effected by suicide to spread awareness.
“I’ve worked with thousands of families, and I’ve never met one that doesn’t want to tell their story,” he says. “The stories need to be told.”
If you or anyone you know needs help, contact one of the following: Lifeline on 13 11 14, Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800, MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978, Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467, Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36, Headspace on 1800 650 890, SuicideLine (Victoria) 24/7 telephone counselling service 1300 651 251 or suicideline.org.au