'The pain is every day': WA community rocked by Indigenous suicides

Updated November 22, 2016 01:38:31

The Goldfields-Esperance region of Western Australia has one of the highest rates of Indigenous suicide in the country.

Young Indigenous people are four times more likely to die by suicide than non-Indigenous Australians aged 15-24.

The WA Parliament's Education and Health Standing Committee recently found that the Federal Government has failed to adequately respond to more than 700 recommendations, made in 40 previous reports, over the past 15 years.

Lateline travelled to WA to meet people in an area where almost every resident has been touched by suicide.

A warning that this story features photos and names of deceased persons.

'The pain is every day'

Norma Ashwin's son Reginald Johnston took his own life in November last year.

"Reginald, heart of gold. He was one of a kind, beautiful smile, he'd give his shirt off his back to anyone," she said.

"Not a worry, I thought. Obviously something was a worry for him not to be here anymore."

She said she liked to wear his shirt to show people he would never be forgotten.

"He'll always be alive within me," she said.

"The pain is every day, every minute of the day. Like a worst nightmare ever. Sometimes I can't breathe.

"Sometimes I sit there and sometimes I can just burst out crying, you know? And I ask God why? What did I do?

"Sometimes I feel I failed being a mum, splitting up with his father, I feel like I let them down."

'I don't want her to grow up without a sister'

Pamela Blizzard is 19 and has lost two cousins, an uncle, and a friend to suicide.

She has attempted suicide twice.

"I run myself down and say I'm not a good person and everything's your fault, and why do you have to be like this?" she said.

"It got to the point where everything I talked about was ... suicide and hurting myself and just not being around."

She said the only reason she was still alive was her little sister.

"I told my sister — my smallest sister — I told her you lock this door don't open it for no one, you wait for them other girls to come back before you open this door because right now, this here could be the last time that you see me.

"And when I went out and looked back, I saw her crying and then I sat there and I thought to myself, I don't want to do that. It's selfish and it's wrong.

"She's the reason why I stopped because I don't want her to grow up without a sister, that someone being there for her when she goes through things like this, you know?"

'In this line [of graves] there is about four suicides'

Elizabeth Ashwin is Reginald's grandmother. Reginald was 17 when he took his own life.

"In this line [of graves] there is about four suicides, very close, before Christmas and after Christmas," she said.

"All young people from around here — Leonora, Kalgoorlie, Meekatharra.

"It's hard, very hard, and the big question is why? Because we all ask why.

"I was hoping to raise money to get a tombstone for [his grave], me and my kids.

"It will take time but we would get there."

'I was very good at faking that I was OK'

Rene Reddingius is Reginald Johnston's uncle.

"There was a real tragic time around [the] end of last year," he said.

"We had a spate of youth suicides from Esperance, Leonora, Kalgoorlie and in two three-week periods there were quite a number of attempts.

"There's never one thing.

"You've got the hopelessness they feel, neglect, abuse, family violence, boredom and then you mix drugs and alcohol which mask that pain that's underneath but then it opens up.

"It is like something simmering to the surface."

Rene grew up in Leonora and understands what the local young people are going through.

"I had two [suicide] attempts in 2004 and no one knew, and I was very good at faking that I was OK," he said.

After the death of his nephew, Rene is encouraging young men in the region to talk about their problems.

"We as a community have drifted from our cultural views and the principles of what we are as people. We haven't lost it, we can restore it, because there is strength within our community," he said.

"We are all part of this responsibility and the responsibility is everyone's including the young people that are thinking about this."

'They've been going to funerals their whole lives'

Christine Jeffries-Stokes is a paediatrician in the town of Kalgoorlie.

"My children are 17 and 20 now, but they've been going to funerals their whole lives, probably most weeks their whole lives, and many of those would have been the result of suicide," she said.

"Just last weekend my daughter rang me to come help because she was with a young niece who was 15 who was trying to take her own life."

She said there were so few mental health services that a lot of her work was providing support for at-risk youth.

"A lot of these kids are not getting the opportunity to discover their talents and their passions because a lot of services have been withdrawn from communities, and so then as teenagers they feel lost, they feel hopeless, and they feel like there's no future for them."

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Topics:suicide, community-and-society, aboriginal, indigenous-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander, leonora-6438, wa, australia

First posted November 21, 2016 19:34:40

Read more http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-11-21/indigenous-suicide-epidemic-in-wa-goldfields-esperance-region/8037462