There is not an article that I write on trauma or suicide prevention which has gone by without my just being informed of a suicide. I have written hundreds of articles on trauma, suicides and suicide prevention. Last year in an article I wrote for The Guardian, published on World Suicide Prevention Day, I opened with, “As I begin to write this piece, I have been informed of a former refugee who has taken his life, of a mother who has taken her life, of a young Aboriginal woman who has taken her life, of a former inmate who has taken his life, of a newly arrived migrant who has taken her life. Each of these individuals was aged in their 20s.”
The suicide crises are deepening and we as a nation have failed to respond in the ways that matter – in the ensuring of the helping of vulnerable people. Last year, we should have secured a royal commission into the suicides crises but alas. In the last year there have been more suicides of Australians than in any year of the last fifteen years.
Suicide takes twice as many Australian lives as all other forms of violence combined, including homicides, military deaths and the road toll. The suicide toll should be the nation’s most pressing issue – the issue of our time.
Twelve ‘suicide prevention’ trial sites have been announced by the Commonwealth but rest assured these million dollars a year only trial sites will achieve jack. Other sites too have been invested in through various organisations but in the end they too will achieve little outcomes based activity that can reach into the lives of the vulnerable or that will educate the ways forward. Central databases of information, resource and services directories and onus for service providers to do more will not reduce the increasing suicide toll and the self-harming and the aberrant behaviour that culminates in the deepest sadness and isolation.
One in four of Australia’s suicides are of migrants. Youth suicide is on the increase. 30 per cent of Australia’s child suicides to age 17 are of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children. Of Australia’s child suicides aged 12 years and less, 80 per cent are of Aboriginal children. The nation should weep.
If you are a former inmate you are up to ten times more likely to suicide in the first year post-release than while in custody. The highest elevated risk groups to suicide are individuals who as children were removed from their biological families, victims of sexual abuse, former inmates, recently evicted families – particularly members of large families that have been evicted. One in 18 Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders deaths is officially a suicide but despite this abominable rate, it’s even higher, more likely one in ten. Suicide among women is on the increase. Racism, poverty, bullying, relationship breakdown, a poor sense of self, failure, hopelessness are all cognitive risk factors. However I have only touched on the disaggregation and on the issues and on the cumulative factors and tipping points.
If we do not have a royal commission then we will leave many behind, we will have failed the majority of those who will suicide in the years ahead whom otherwise we could have saved and we will increase the wilderness of grief that is left behind after a loss, we will fail to unveil the multifaceted ways forward and we will fail to galvanise a national investment in the ways forward. The suicide prevention spaces remain inauthentic and at best are no more than a momentary shoulder to rest on for some of the vulnerable. That is a disgrace – a national shame.
As I approach the end of this article I have been informed of another suicide – of a young person. In the last two years I have been made aware of 160 suicides, many of children, of intimate details that speak to me that the majority of these lives could have been saved and with the spreading of some love, some help, improved to fulfilling lives, to the dawn of new meanings and contexts. In these two years there have been 6,000 suicides of Australians.
– Recommended reading: The suicide prevention space is immature and inauthentic
Last year the Western Australian Government commissioned a parliamentary inquiry into youth suicides in remote communities. They found no need for a royal commission. I had presented before the inquiry on two occasions and argued heavily for a royal commission. The committee delivered next-to-nothing, a messy hash of past recommendations and the reductionist presumption that more needed to be done by services, and that they could be more effectively coordinated. None of any of this tripe will eventuate. It was all theatre. It is to the shame of everyone in Western Australia’s parliament that a royal commission was not invested in and that social reforms will not be galvanised. It is as if for them that life is cheap.
Federally, both the Coalition and the ALP have failed to champion the need for a royal commission. Years ago, both refused to back same-sex marriage – there was Senator Penny Wong toeing the party line on same-sex marriage – but when the issue becomes big enough in the national consciousness finally there is an about-face and both sides one way or another are championing same-sex marriage. The only reason same-sex marriage is not here today is because politicking has got in the way – each party trying to embarrass the other out of government. Someday there will be a royal commission into Australia’s suicide crises but it will come soaked in blood – in hundreds or thousands of lives later needlessly lost.
The nation has suicide prevention bodies and suicide prevention action plans but they are not making any valuable difference, they are disconnected and minimalist. They are also patchy and turf ridden. Everyone would benefit from a royal commission and the conversation and education that this nation needs.
We should not give up. If we do then we will lose many more young and older people because they will have nowhere to turn to, because we refused to listen to them.
Please view this ABC 24 interview from 2016 – Thousands call for a royal commission