Speech to Parliament
13 November 2014
Mr WINGARD ( Mitchell ) ( 12:13 ): I rise today to support the motion on suicide prevention and awareness, as put forward by the member for Mount Gambier, and thank him for doing so.
Many of us have been touched in some way by the death of an individual who has taken their own life. Preventing suicide and the impact it has on individuals, families and the community is the responsibility of all.
As has been pointed out previously, suicide is a prominent public health concern. Over the past five years, the average number of suicide deaths per year is 2,415—significantly higher numbers than the national road toll—and more than 65,000 make an attempt at suicide. In 2012, 1,901 males and 634 females died by suicide—a total of 2,535 deaths, which equates to an average of 6.9 deaths by suicide in Australia each day.
For those of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent, the relative age standardised suicide rate is 2.5 times higher for males and 3.4 times higher for females than in the corresponding non-Indigenous population. Suicide rates in Australia peaked in 1963 at 17.5 per 100,000, declining to 11.3 per 100,000 in 1984 and climbing back to 14.6 in 1997. Rates have been lower than this since that year. The age standardised suicide rate for persons in 2012 was 11.2 per 100,000. Seventy-seven per cent of people who die by suicide are males and 25 per cent are females.
There is an unwritten rule in the media not to report suicides to prevent copycat situations. Given those numbers, perhaps this is something that needs to be re-addressed and/or re-explained. Because suicides are not reported in the media, it must be noted that it does not mean they do not happen. I know a sensitivity must be shown in these situations, but perhaps more public awareness is needed and something that could be considered.
In recent years, in 2008 to 2012, the highest state-based standardised suicide rates were in the Northern Territory at 18.1 per 100,000 and Tasmania at 14.1 per 100,000, followed by Western Australia at 13.5, Queensland at 13 and South Australia at 11.8 per 100,000. Below them sat Victoria, the ACT and New South Wales.
I would like to commend a lot of groups that do a lot of good work in this field as well. You can see from those numbers that it is not good, and improvement in this area is greatly needed. I would like to commend the people who organised the R U OK Day, which took place on 11 September this year. It is a day to increase awareness of suicide prevention and encourage people to ask 'Are you okay?' to all those around them. Feeling connected is an important part of suicide prevention, and it is crucial we help others feel they belong, as a step towards lowering the number of suicides worldwide.
The thing I note about R U OK Day is that it is a great thing to do, as we did this year on Thursday 11 September, but it is something that can be done every day. To bring that awareness to people to care for those around them, I think is absolutely exemplary. Wednesday 10 September was World Suicide Prevention Day. This year the international theme was Suicide Prevention: One World Connected. The theme seeks to encourage connections between individuals, support services and countries in an attempt to reduce suicide and seek help for those needing it.
Suicide is the leading cause of death in Australia for men aged under 44 years and women aged under 34. In fact, the numbers show that seven Australians take their own lives every day. For every suicide there are tragic ripple effects for friends, families, colleagues and the broader community, and I will talk about that in a few moments.
Just as a reminder, I know phone numbers have been thrown around, but if someone you care about is in a crisis and you think immediate action is needed, call emergency services on 000, contact your doctor or local mental health crisis services or go to your local hospital emergency department. Do not leave the person alone unless you are concerned for your own safety.
I mentioned some of the great groups that work in this area, R U OK Day being an example. Another group that does marvellous work in this area is the beyondblue group, which is headed by former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett. They make some really good points about understanding suicide. Some of the key factors associated with suicide are varied and complex. Predicting who will take their life is extremely difficult, even for experienced professionals, and it is why, I think, when it does happen—people in this house have mentioned today the experiences they have had, and indeed I have had those same experiences—you sit there and you always ask yourself the question 'Why?' In most cases you had no idea that it was on the agenda for the person who did suicide.
There are several common characteristics of suicide, including a sense of unbearable psychological pain, a sense of isolation from others, lack of belonging, feeling trapped and hopeless and a burden on others, and the perception that death is the only solution when the individual is temporarily not able to think clearly, due to being blinded by overwhelming pain and suffering. There are also excruciating negative emotions, including sharing guilt, anger, fear and sadness, and they frequently serve as the foundation for self-destructive behaviour. These emotions may arise from any number of sources.
The most common condition associated with suicide is depression, and that is something that people deal with daily. I must point out that depression is not like other medical ailments—for example, a broken leg. When you fit a cast to a broken leg, you generally wait six to eight weeks, do some physio and, more often than not, people move on and are back in the recovery phase.
The recovery process for depression is not necessarily that clear. There is not a beginning, middle and end as such. Some people will only experience one episode of depression or anxiety in their life while others may go on to have another episode or experience recurring symptoms of depression and/or anxiety. Staying healthy both mentally and physically is not a sprint or a fad diet: it is a long-term life plan which, for all of us, requires work each and every single day, and that is where some of those groups come in.
Again, the member for Mt Gambier cleverly gave the number for Lifeline as today's date, being 13 11 14, which is incredibly clever. Any way we can publicise these ways of communicating or enabling people to communicate with professionals is fantastic. Kids Helpline is another, ReachOut is another, there is Headspace, and I have mentioned beyondblue. The Men's Shed programs fit into this space as well. We have them in Trott Park in my electorate and also in Reynella in my electorate. They do a marvellous job just to allow people to talk and share their emotions and time.
I would also like to commend the Hon. John Dawkins in the other place. When campaigning ahead of the last election, I held a seminar at the Reynella East College on suicide prevention. We had 15 or so people come along. It was a great event at which to hear from people in the community and to enlighten people in the community about the help you can get, things you can do and ways you can have yourself heard and helped, which seems to be a very common factor in suicide prevention with people who are suffering and looking for that added support.
Speaking of support, something that needs to be mentioned in this as well are the people who are left after suicide. They should not be forgotten in this either. Often, support is needed for those people. When coping with the loss of a friend or family member from suicide, people often feel a sense of unreality and numbness and have nightmares, intrusive thoughts, feelings of guilt and failure that they could not prevent it, as I pointed out earlier, feelings of perceived failure in responsibilities and a sense of blame. The list goes on, but these points are very real:
the feeling of rejection and abandonment;
anger towards the person who has suicided;
personal diminishment because of experiencing the suicide and a reflection of the quality of the relationship with the person; and
a sense of shame and stigma that other people will think negatively about you and your family, as well as the person who died. Sometimes this can result in feeling alone and wanting to withdraw from others.
Suicide bereaved people need compassion, as well as recognition and validation of their experience. In summary, if you are dealing with someone you are supporting in this situation, it is important to be non-judgemental in your support and offer an opportunity for them to tell their story. Sometimes, they will need to tell it over and over again to put them in a good space and help them grieve their loss. A safe and supportive environment is also needed, and it is also important for the person to be deeply listened to and heard and to express their grief in their own way.
In concluding, again I commend the member for Mount Gambier for bringing this motion before the house. Suicide is a very serious and real situation for the whole of the community, not only people who are feeling depressed. Any way we can help over time is vitally important.