The search to identify contagion operating within suicide clusters in Indigenous communities, Northern Territory, Australia Hanssens L

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Hanssens L
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Aboriginal and Islander Health Worker Journal
Unemployment; Suicide--Prevention; Firearms
Objective: Clusters of suicide appear to be intensified within some Indigenous communities in all regions of the Northern Territory. This paper will investigate whether a contagion effect is operating and identify whether it is a robust risk factor for Indigenous suicide. Other risk factors for suicide in Indigenous communities including alcohol and familiarity with hanging as a method will be explored in the context social and cultural vulnerability. Methods: National Coroners Information System and Northern Territory Coroners Office data were examined by firstly identifying Indigenous status. Data was aggregated, de-identified and extracted into an Excel spreadsheet and analysis conducted to provide correlations. Results: The prevalence of hanging as a method of completion in 86% of Indigenous suicides in the Northern Territory provides strong evidence of contagion and imitation. This method to complete suicide peaks at 90% at the 10 - 19 age group and again at 40 - 49 age group. Alcohol was present in 77% of suicides but there appears to be a definite correlation between hanging as a method and alcohol intoxication. What is more sinister is the prevalence of hanging in 100% of child suicides aged 10 - 14 years of age and appears as a strong predictor of behavioural contagion in that age group. Discussion: The evidence of contagion and multiple risk factors operating within clusters of suicide provides a complex picture of Indigenous suicide in the Northern Territory. The main known predictors of suicide such as alcohol intoxication, other drug use and social stressors are identified as causal in behavioural contagion. The challenge to understand the meaning and impact of a hanging body as a response to unfailing hardship within Indigenous communities is now critical, as familiarity with hanging as a method increases in younger age groups. Conclusions: Contagion has been identified as a strong predictor of Indigenous suicide in Indigenous settings particularly hanging as a behavioural contagion. Urgent interventions are needed to prevent this robust contagion spreading, particularly in vulnerable Indigenous young children and adolescents.
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