Time to face the harsh reality of mental illness and depression

Tough conversation: The increase in suicides continues to plague regional communities with over 2,500 suicides per year throughout Australia.
Tough conversation: The increase in suicides continues to plague regional communities with over 2,500 suicides per year throughout Australia.

We need to talk. It’s pretty serious. In fact, it’s life-threatening. 

The issue of suicide is not something we as journalists are freely able to document, and understandably so; the sensitive nature of reporting death and the associated trauma of suicide means more often than not, we choose not to make public the many instances we hear of each week.

But I’m talking about it now, because it’s an epidemic and it is about time we turned towards the elephant in the room, because it is huge and fearsome and will not be ignored.

I lost a friend last week. She was a bright, determined and motivated young businesswoman with the world at her feet. Unfortunately she had demons that she could not fight alone and after many years of battling, chose to end her life by her own hand. 

Tragic, yes. Common? Most definitely.

As I began to reveal the basic details of my friend’s passing to other close friends, I became acutely aware that we are all being affected by suicide, and it’s getting closer every day. 

In my three years in Margaret River, I have experienced more instances of suicide of friends and work colleagues, and counselled more friends through their own losses of parents, siblings and children than I have experienced any sort of death at all in my 36 years of life.

Mental health support organisation Beyond Blue lists suicide as the leading cause of death for males and females aged between 15 and 44. In a typical year, over 2,500 Australians die by suicide, or around seven people per day. 

So why don’t we talk about it? 

Of the friends and acquaintances I have lost to suicide over the years, just two had families who actively addressed the reality of their deaths. Just two, out of about 15 adults who took their own lives. 

Others were remembered with all the love and light expected, but with this odd, secretive aspect to the messages of remembrance. Talk of “your long battle” and “perhaps you will now find peace” peppered the conversation. Yet nobody wanted to say it. She killed herself. 

Imagine if the friends and relatives of those other 13 people had the opportunity to openly discuss and grieve and vent their lack of understanding towards this vicious and unrelenting blight on our population. 

Members of the media are encouraged to heavily edit and reduce the prominence of reports of suicide in publications, for the reasons mentioned earlier – sensitivity, respect and the threat of contributing to the problem. 

So we need to start talking about it ourselves; at the dinner table, at bedtime, in the car on the way to high school. The longer the word ‘suicide’ remains taboo, a gasp-behind-the-hand concept attached only to the visibly unwell, the longer we will continue to farewell our neighbours, family and friends far too early. 

I have chosen to use the word on occasions where I felt it was warranted. Rather than allowing the unspoken term to fester beneath the surface of a girls’ night catch-up over a bottle of red, it’s open and honest – suicide is real and it is affecting every single one of us in some capacity.

Barriers must be broken down. Often we hear stories of mothers who had no idea their child was even struggling, or ex-husbands who thought “a couple of beers with the boys” would be sufficient to mend their own broken hearts.

You’ve got to say the words. “I’m feeling suicidal.” “Are you feeling suicidal?”

I’ve had suicidal thoughts at times in my adult life. I think you would be exceptionally hard pressed to find someone who hadn’t. Yet we refuse to address it until it is too late, until we’re saying goodbye to yet another member of our community.

Let’s begin talking about things that really matter, before it’s too late. 

If you or someone you love is in crisis or needs support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.

- Nicky Lefebvre