We must not accept this awful tragedy of suicides
- Herald Sun
- April 02, 2014
Suicide was the leading cause of death for Australians aged between 15 and 44. Put that against the 1310 Australians who lost their lives on the roads in 2012 and the 260 who lost their lives through acts of violence in 2010.
Outside of ageing, disease and illnesses, more people in Australia die each year by their own hand than by any other means.
And the number of suicides in 2012 was higher than the year before. That might be a result of better collection of data but whatever the reason, the figure is a national disgrace.
Billions of dollars over the years which has seen Victoria’s road toll drop from 1061 in 1970 to 242 in 2013. Money well spent.
But given that Australia’s suicide rate is close to double the national road toll, how much have we spent on suicide prevention over the same period? Very little.
Recently, governments of all persuasions have increased their expenditure on mental health issues, anxiety and depression. Many organisations like my own beyondblue, Headspace, Lifeline and SANE have all been beneficiaries of government support and have been involved in work to assist those with illnesses that are often present when a person attempts to take their life.
Many of those organisations have developed preventive programs to assist and encourage people to get professional support when ill. We have been working on reducing the stigma associated with depression and mental health issues.
All provide a counselling service to those who might be considering taking their lives.
But clearly all our good work has not been enough. We need to do more, consistently, for the next 10 years to try to reduce such unacceptable statistics.
We at beyondblue, along with our charter in the areas of anxiety and depression, will continue lifting the community conversation around suicide: not where and how a life is taken, but the impact that suicide has on family and friends.
It has taken 10 years to have depression talked about openly in the community and it might take us 10 years to achieve the same with the issue of suicide, but it is a discussion that must be had.
ONE initiative beyondblue has begun is the funding of research in the Northern Territory, which has the highest suicide rate per capita in Australia. This research is trying to establish if an outreach program focused on continuity of care would make a person who has attempted to take their life less likely to try again.
But there is other work that needs to be done by all of us. I recently trekked the Kokoda Track and was again impressed by the happiness and wellbeing of the Papuans we met along the way.
They are village people, with no phones, televisions, cars and, importantly, no alcohol. Their villages are huts on cleared earth, of which they are very proud. There is no litter. Both the adults and their children are all happy. No depression, no suicides.
It had me again comparing their lives with ours and their countrymen and women who live in Port Moresby, their capital.
The more we pursue material possessions, the more we build expectations on ourselves and others which increasingly we can’t meet. We are driven by measurements such as the size and place of your home, the make of your car, where you educate your children, take your holidays, even where you eat and what you drink — not to mention what you look like or how you dress.
The high level of suicides and attempted suicides, the million people who suffer a depressive illness each year, the 200,000 with a serious mental illness, surely those statistics are telling us something which we cannot ignore.
For many, our lifestyle is not conducive to good mental health. It is why I believe the AFL, our sports and culture are so important because they provide a break from the things that cause us so much stress, they also provide connection and belonging.
To use a phrase that was used by another recently, Australians need to re-evaluate our lives and “decouple” from the things that cause us stress, anxiety and worse.
We need balance in our lives. We can still work and play hard, but there must also be quality time: time to pause, to reflect, time for children and grandchildren, time for physical activity and time to cleanse the spirit.
How I envy those Papuans, with their simple life in a beautiful country. I love Australia as well, but so much of our pain, our distress, our loss of life is of our own making. We need to reflect and change, otherwise our pursuit of materialism will be marked by sadness and death.
Have a good day.
Jeff Kennett is a former premier of Victoria and founding chairman of beyondblue
Opinion, Herald Sun Newspaper
April 2nd 2014