Kowanyama, far north Queensland’s remote indigenous community, is in a grip of mental health crisis as its suicide rate alarmingly climbs to become one of the highest in the world.
The town being a suicide hotspot has been a burning issue in the community that is little known to most household Australians. Two or three people are reportedly attempting to commit suicide every week in Kowanyama — a staggering amount in an isolated community with just around 1,200 people.
The town’s Aboriginal Shire Council Mayor Michael Yam himself has lost four family members to suicide, including his son, uncle, and two brothers.
Academic Gerry Georgatos urged the state and federal governments to take urgent action to address poverty in the region, which, according to him, played a big role when it came to people deciding to take their own lives. He warns if distress factors like unemployment and homelessness are not tackled, things could only worsen.
“The narrative is poverty and that’s what needs to be addressed,” he said.
Kowanyama, Queensland Suicide Rate
Between 2001 and 2012, there were 60 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicides in Cape York. But since 2012, Georgatos noted there had been 40 which is incredibly high for the size of the population in the region. “And it’s an accepted fact that for every suicide, for every loss, there could be anywhere between 10 and 20 attempted suicides,” he added.
According to Cairns Post, the recent rise in Kowanyama’s suicide rate was sparked by a by a public tragedy in October when a car mowed a house full of mourners, killing one and severely injuring 25 people. Council Mayor Yam already called out the government to help the situation, highlighting the suicide of a 23-year-old man last month. The community’s Women’s Group also wrote to Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk which can be read below.
In light of the issue, Premier Palaszczuk confirmed she would travel to Kowanyama in September to discuss the community’s concerns. Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service chief executive Michel Lok also sent an extra social worker to provide on-the-ground support in the town in addition to a mental health clinical nurse consultant who travels to Kowanyama weekly for four-day visits.