Greece had a long history of the world’s lowest suicide rates but during the last decade, since 2008, the suicide rates have increased, intertwined with the economic crises and hardships.

This has a flow on effect with Greeks who migrate and the rise of suicidality. Greece’s suicidality has ebbed, rising, levelling, declining, but historical resilience eroded. Suicidality does not just culminate in suicide but can morph into disordered thinking, grief externalised, negative aberrances. The homeland experience with low suicide rates is important because it has a flow-on effect to Greeks the world over, although generationally this erodes, with second and third generation Greeks, such as Greek Australians, the children and grandchildren of Greek migrants having higher levels of suicidality than their migrant forebears.

But this has changed this last half generation, with Greece’s suicidality levels higher this last decade than the previous century, and with psychological and psychosocial resilience eroded, the elevated risks exported from the Greek homeland to the migrant experience.

The contemporary migrant experience is not equal to historical migratory experiences, with the journeying to escape socioeconomic hardships. There is a modern phenomenon where subsequently failing to escape the economic stressors in a new homeland, erodes one into a seeming inconsolable negative self.

Migrant-born Australians, particularly from other than English backgrounds, with pronounced socioeconomic hardship and with less than five years living in Australia are at an elevated risk of feeling suicide-prone. Socioeconomic inequalities in suicide mortality are harrowingly stark. The migrant journey in modern Australia is a socioeconomically more arduous struggle than comparatively ever before.

More than a quarter of Australia’s suicide toll is comprised of the migrant born, with relatively newly arrived of less than five years’ residence at the highest risk when it comes to suicidality. These groups include eastern Europeans, eastern Africans, subcontinental Asians, eastern Asians, Maoris and Pasifika peoples.

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An alarming rise

I work alongside the suicide affected and suicidality daily, and I have found that I am supporting more migrant-born Australians and more Australian children born of migrants than previously.

Though Greek Australians do not appear to be experiencing anywhere near the higher suicidality of central Asians, Maori and Pasifika Australians, I am working with more Greek Australians, and of their Australian born children, than in previous years.

Similarly, I am finding more Greek Australians experiencing homelessness. One in three homeless Australians are migrant born.

We need to disaggregate data on migrant suicides and suicidality to country of origin, to average and median years of Australian residency, to socioeconomic indicators, to first- and second-generation categorical data, otherwise migrants will continue to be lost in translation when it comes to suicidality.

One in 50 Australian deaths is a suicide whereas the figure climbs to one in 17 deaths for First Nations people, and I estimate that at least one in 40 deaths of migrant-born Australians is a suicide.

If we do not disaggregate, we discriminate, we leave people behind and fail them because we have not described unmet need and galvanised tailormade responses, which for migrants from language and culture diverse backgrounds, various nuanced norms must be understood.

The majority of Australia’s suicide toll is intertwined with socioeconomic disadvantage or proximal socioeconomic stressors.

Greek Australian suicides also have outliers, with my experience showing that they are linked to an apparent high incidence of ‘shame’ or the presumption of ‘philotimo’ factoring, with criminality exposed culminating in the suicide of Greek Australians of the first and second generation. However socioeconomic disadvantage coupled with isolation remain the predominant stressors for the contemporary Greek Australian.

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There is an arc of issues to suicidality, despite the prominent poverty narrative and its concomitant stressors. The arc, though predominantly psychosocial, includes clinical issues, disordered thinking that can become neurodegenerative, with aggressive complex trauma. One Greek Australian who committed suicide in 2006 was Cold Chisel’s prominent roadie and sound engineer, Gerry Georgettis.

We need to better understand what constitutes happiness, improve understandings of sustainable expectations, and cherish camaraderie and that our time on this earth is in effect a brief stretch and living humbly, within our means, avoiding debt and avoiding drudgery, respecting and being there for one another nourishes not only the other but the self.

As a young child, in the early 1970s, I remember the absorption of sadness by some of Sydney’s Greek community of the suicide by a newly-arrived young Greek male. Years later, I read some of his letters to the homeland showing his yearning to return after he made his quid in an Australia, which he believed found it hard to accept him. How we treat one another matters. This still remains true today. Racism does contribute as a stressor, and the misoxeny and xenophobia of my childhood has returned these last two decades. Xenophobia has to do with fear and misoxeny with hate, and where one perceives hate, this is a significant psychological hit.

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I have just returned to Perth, from far north Queensland, where I was supporting a seven-year-old child who attempted suicide. There are more children today experiencing suicidality and I have been urging our Governments these last several years to do more than ever before to abate what should be unimaginable, children and suicidality. The youngest child I have supported from suicidality was six, the youngest child of Greek Australians I have supported from suicidality was ten.

  • Gerry Georgatos is the national coordinator of the National Suicide Prevention & Trauma Recovery Project. Mr Georgatos is a university researcher, academic and social justice and human rights campaigner who has campaigned for prison reform as well as for the rights of the impoverished, marginalised and homeless.