The rising rate of young Indigenous women dying by suicide in the Northern Territory could be contributing to a worrying Australia-wide increase, a new report has found.
Suicide continues to be the leading cause of death among young women in Australia, and the statistics are particularly bad for young Territory women.
The report, published in the current issue of BMC Public Health, found rates of suicide were higher for both young males and young females in the NT than any other Australian jurisdiction.
But while the rate of young boys taking their lives had leveled out, for young women it had increased.
Mental health organisation Orygen's head of suicide prevention research, associate professor Jo Robinson said suicide rates among Indigenous women were four times higher than for non-Indigenous women.
"The dominant narrative in suicide prevention is that we need to be paying attention to middle-aged men," professor Robinson said.
"But we're seeing a very worrying trend in young females."
Researchers looked at annual suicide incidence among young Australians aged 10-24 from the National Coronial Information System and the Australian Bureau of Statistics, between 2004 and 2014.
The report found young Indigenous people are consistently over-represented in Australian suicide statistics, "raising the possibility that a rise in young female suicide rates may be driven in part by increases among young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander females in particular."
Between 2007-11 and 2012-16, statistics showed an increase in deaths by suicide among young Indigenous females alongside declining rates among young boys.
Through population studies the researchers found the prevalence of depression and anxiety are on the rise among Indigenous youth, which could be contributing to increased suicide rates.
While young men made up 75 per cent of all young people (3709) who died by suicide in the 10 year period, there was a significant increase in the rate of death among females.
In the decade to 2014, the rate of suicide in young females increased by three per cent per year, equating to a total increase of 38 per cent.
The report also found hanging was the most commonly used suicide method, with a smaller proportion using drugs.
"These figures speak to the fact that young women aren't being taken seriously when they present to emergency departments and other health care professionals for help," professor Robinson said.
"Young women who present with self-harm are often dismissed - they're sent away as attention seeking without getting adequate care - but then we're seeing them represented in suicide statistics."
Females aged 20-24 were 8.3 times more likely to die by suicide than younger females aged 10-14, but researchers found there was also a clear upward trend in the rate of death in females aged 10-14.
Professor Robinson said although the factors contributing to the increase in female suicide were complex, the solution may be relatively straightforward.
"Unlike middle aged men - who tend not to seek help - these are young people who are in the system, they're young people who are presenting for help," she said.
"So when young females present with depression, anxiety and suicide-related behaviour - including self-harm - we need to be taking that behaviour really seriously.
"The solution is better service and system responses. Adequate assessment, adequate treatment, and adequate follow-up are the recipe for success."
Professor Robinson said the findings around suicide in young women reflected a broader trend across Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.
"It's what we've suspected anecdotally for some time," she said.
"With this study, what we've been able to do for the first time in Australia is to demonstrate that with evidence."
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