Friday, May 6, 2011 do we prevent it?

Every now and again you have a morning when you find you have to force yourself to get out of bed. Just occasionally you take a look in the mirror and don't like what you see. Sometimes it is very hard to ignore the hurt that lives deep down inside you. There are days when having a good cry is not enough.

In Cairns we have a problem. It's much, much bigger than we know and nobody is sure what to do about it. While you and I have days like those mentioned above, some of us are struggling EVERY day. There are some who haven't got the tools to fight the bad days and they build and build, until they break.

For many it becomes a diagnosable mental illness such as depression or anxiety but for a few who don't get the help they need, it becomes the end of their life.

Suicide in the whole of Australia is a real concern. The rates are rising and both sexes are on almost equal footing in these horrendous statistics. Looking at the numbers it's hard to see why this issue is not more heavily funded and more closely studied but perhaps that's part of the problem. We choose not to look.

In Cairns, and particularly the south side, the statistics are very high. These are people we are talking about though so the numbers are irrelevant.

If a person dies of natural causes, we see the ad in the paper announcing their death and giving us all details of the funeral. If a murder is committed, the people involved, including the victim, are paraded around in all forms of media right through till the conclusion of any trial that occurs. If a person commits suicide, we see an ad in the paper announcing their death and details of the funeral.

Essentially, a suicide victim is seen by us in the same light as a person who has died from illness or old age. Perhaps an illness has been the root of the cause but what we end up with, is ignorance of the scope of suicide. There is absolutely no question that we shouldn't respect their family's and we definitely should NOT be parading these lost souls in front of our television cameras. We should though, be more aware.

Youth suicide is at an all time high with those aged between 15 and 25 obviously having a lot more difficulty with life than generations prior to this one. This is not to say that suicide has not always been a problem, it has, but there must be definable reasons why it's escalating.

Ask any person you know and they will tell you of a friend, colleague or family member who lost their life this way. They will also tell you, if asked, that there were signs of a troubled soul beforehand.

So, why are our young people (and according to those in the know, both sexes aged 35-45) increasingly turning to suicide as an option? Have we become so disconnected to those around us that we are no longer engaging them in case it complicates our own lives? Are we becoming a selfish society that cares more about ourselves than the health and wellbeing of anyone else?

Perhaps part of the answer is all of the above. There are many, many reasons for the rise in suicide and that's a start. Having a reason gives us a measure by which we can create changes. Unfortunately there appears to be a lack of solid ideas on what changes should be made or how changes can occur. Ask your partner, your colleagues at work or a family member what they would do to fight the rise in suicide in the region. It's a very tough question to answer.

We all have opinions on almost all issues we face in our community, country and the world. We know what WE would have done if we'd found Bin Laden, what WE would do about climate change, what WE want done about our Entertainment Precint.......but nobody ever talks about what WE should do to halt the instances of suicide. Nobody ever mentions it. Even controversial subjects like abortion, depression and gay marriage are discussed almost everywhere you go. Still, nobody mentions suicide.

We know that inclusion in community helps us to deal with depression. It encourages those affected to seek help and we know that intervention works. We also know that the rapid rise in body image problems is contributing so our media have to address that issue immediately. We are aware that sudden changes in mood are a sign that things are not okay and sometimes it helps to just talk about it.

New media and social media are contributing to the disconnection our youth are feeling. Facebook allows us to let the world know we are having a really hard time but it does not allow for any meaningful conversation about it. So many times we see a status that reads......"Why do I bother, life is just too hard" and we carefully craft a trite response that we hope will brighten the day up. What we should be doing is reaching for the phone or the car keys and having a meaningful connection to that person. Sometimes those little notes go on for weeks or pop up on the same person's 'page' repeatedly but do we take notice? No. We start to ignore them because they are so annoyingly negative.

Frankly, I think we are often unkind and cruel in our appraisal of our fellow man. We are stuck in a vacuum and like our bubble so much that we don't know what to do when we see someone struggling.

Now, usually when I write a blog entry, I start with the issue, delve deeper into the problem and end by offering some solutions. On this issue though, I am lost. I hate not having some answers or suggestions for a problem but suicide is not something I believe has any simple answers that can be written up by a mum who has no psychology background. I even think that those who are qualified in the area would struggle to come up with simple solutions. The problem is so complex it needs many different methods to be implemented so we can have a multi-layered approach.

If anyone has any ideas, please let us all know. The only way to achieve anything is to at least try. Nothing should ever be put in the 'too hard' basket and something that affects so many should, right now, be front and centre in our minds.


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  2. The Dr Edward Koch Foundation has worked in the suicide prevention area since. The Foundation provides practical information & resources to increase awareness of issues related to suicide & to assist persons of what to do when they think that someone may be at risk.
    Yes, suicide is a problem in Aust. society. More people die yearly from suicide than in road accidents, as per the ABS. The Foundation’s Life Program includes workshops, bereavement support, community plans & the FNQ Suicide Prevention Taskforce. The Life Workshops aim to provide individuals with a set of basic skills to assist in recognising when somebody may be at risk of suicide, ways of responding & resources. A workshop to suit young people is being developed. The Life Bereavement Support Service is offered to people who have lost someone through suicide. In a multi-layered approach, the Foundation, the Cape PCYC Indigenous Business Unit & DoHA have developed a community plan in the North Peninsula Area to reduce levels of suicide. This plan includes workshops, providing culturally appropriate resources & training volunteers to become Life Community Carers. Other community plans are also in process. The Taskforce meets monthly & is a community based volunteer group formed in response to regional suicide deaths. Members consist of approx.120 groups/organisations with health, welfare, education, local government, Indigenous, professional & academic backgrounds. Their goal is to implement, support & reduce suicide & self-harm. The ‘Preventing Suicide: an Awareness & Support Handbook’ which is now undergoing its fifth revision has been distributed to over 25,000 people around FNQ & across Australia. This is a not for profit organization & funding for this project is a very difficult & constant concern. In 2008, the Foundation presented the Qld Suicide & Self-harm Prevention Conference in Cairns in partnership with its Taskforce network & Qld Health. Professor Diego De Leo, Director of the Australian Institute for Suicide Research & Prevention spoke to 350 people from local & interstate areas who also shared their experience/knowledge. The Foundation brings internationally known experts in the field of suicide prevention to Cairns yearly, to present training seminars for those who work with people at risk of suicide. Dr Heather Fiske & Adrian Hill from Canada presented on Community Hope & Healing: Conversations in Suicide Prevention on 6 May 2011. In 2010, Dr Scott Poland, US consultant on school safety was the presenter on psychology of trauma and parenting. One factor involving the lack of media information is their need to focus on attention attracting headlines. There is an official set of media guidelines which covers how a suicide event is presented. Media may inform the public about the problem of suicide & how many occur, however the media is asked not to publish details of methods used. This restricting guideline appears to result in the subject being avoided for more attention catching stories. The Taskforce approached a local newspaper regarding suicide prevention articles receiving no response. The Taskforce approached radio stations to request they remove songs explicitly stating suicide is the answer. Some were helpful and removed the song/s while others simply ignored the request. In partnership with the Foundation is the ‘Survivors of Suicide Bereavement Support Association’ a peer support group for family/friends of persons who have died by suicide. This group meets on the second Tuesday of the month 7:30pm at Red Cross House in Lake Street. Contact Fran 0407695891. Thank you for expressing your interest & concerns on your blog site & asking readers to consider what they would do to engage with suicide problems in our region. Please check out the Foundation’s website & its resources or contact us on 40310145.

  3. The above post came to me via e-mail from Dulcie Bird at the Edward Koch Foundation. Thankyou for the input Dulcie. Excellent information for us all.