OPINION

Why we need to keep talking about suicide

END THE STIGMA: No one should be made to feel ashamed for seeking help or guidance when a life is in danger.
END THE STIGMA: No one should be made to feel ashamed for seeking help or guidance when a life is in danger.

A suicide prevention summit is being held in Canberra this week. Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Health Minister Greg Hunt will address those gathered, and yet you possibly haven't heard a thing about it.

We don't talk much about this subject. I try and sneak in at least a column a year on suicide prevention.

I say "sneak in" because I write with trepidation, as every time I address the subject - no matter how long I agonise over words - somebody always contacts me to express their criticisms.

Some years ago, a teenage boy at a school where I knew a good number of the staff and students, took his own life.

The school decided students would attend the boy's funeral during school hours and a tree was planted in the school grounds in his honour.

Some time later, another boy at the same school took his own life. The school decided to make only small mention of this second tragedy.

In both cases, that school came under heavy criticism for its response. No wonder few want to speak about suicide.

It's too early for the release of any report from this week's summit.

However, we do know via a recent Productivity Commission report examining deficiencies in Australia's mental health system that 25 per cent of people who attempt suicide will try again, and the risk of relapse is significantly higher in the first three months.

Only last week, Christine Morgan - chief executive of the Mental Health Commission and the prime minister's adviser on suicide prevention - said there were three stigmas facing those who had attempted to end their own lives: personal shame, societal stigma and structural stigma.

As Ms Morgan put it: "One of the things that shocked me the most, and this is horrific, is stigma. It's not lack of awareness.

"It is real stigma. It's self stigma, which I kind of call shame, it's other people's attitudes, which is societal stigma, and it's actual structural stigma, and I call that discrimination - it's [fear] of what happens to me if I disclose this."

If you or anyone you know is thinking about suicide, please seek immediate and professional help.

I know you've heard all this before, but after reading Australian Bureau of Statistics "causes of death" data released only last week, I've been thinking that clearly we are not saying it often enough.

The ABS revealed last week that 75 per cent of deaths by suicide occur in men.

Although the figures for women are much lower, the unseen tragedy in this figure is that female suicide increased 31 per cent between 2009-18.

Suicide continues to be the leading cause of death among young people aged 15-24, at an unacceptable 40 per cent.

What may also shock you in last week's ABS data is the revelation that suicide deaths were highest among middle-aged men 35-64 years.

There are so many myths surrounding suicide, like the thoroughly discredited belief that those who say they will won't, and only the quiet ones who say nothing will. Both scenarios have ended in tragedies.

There are so many myths surrounding suicide, like the thoroughly discredited belief that those who say they will won't, and only the quiet ones who say nothing will.

Both scenarios have ended in tragedies. But it's not like we understand nothing about suicide. We now know that any threat of suicide must always be taken seriously, no matter the circumstances.

People in a safe place usually do not talk about suicide.

Family and friends can be a massive part of recovery from suicidal thoughts, but remember there are professionals out there who can help.

These people may not be as cool or funny as our family and friends, but, like any doctor, they have knowledge and medicine that will help.

And we should never be ashamed to take advice or medicine that will save our lives - no matter what our preconceptions of shame may be.

Sometimes, the bravest word you can possibly utter is "help!"

Twitter: @fatherbrendanelee

  • If you or someone you know needs help or support, call Lifeline's 24/7 national telephone helpline service on 13 11 14 or in an emergency phone 000.