Suicide: status quo is unacceptable

Savour the moment: Perth resident Gary Tate was visiting family in the region when he spotted these riders along the estuary “and had to stop to capture the scene”. On August 31 theBunburyMailpublished an article on its front page called Facing the Wave about a young member of our community who took her own life and the subsequent expression of grief from her friends and family.
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The article was written and photographed by South West editor Jeremy Hedley and it seems to have hit a nerve: since it was published it has been one our most read stories online and so far it has been read nearly 20,000 times.

Not everyone understood it, and it was undoubtedly a confronting piece, but anyone familiar with the Australian Press Council guidelines on the reporting of suicide, which were revised in August 2011, would have no doubt about the motivation and mechanics of the piece.

The simple fact is that the status quo is unacceptable and it will not change if we continue to stick our heads in the sand and refuse to acknowledge reality. Campaign after campaign urges us to open up, reach out, communicate, talk about things, and the media has an important responsibility to help this happen so that anyone suffering can get the help they need.

Taryn Houghton, manager of statewide and regional services at HelpingMinds, saw a copy of ourAugust 31 article and organised to bring the week-long Changing Minds program to schools in Bunbury. The organisation, which for forty years has been providing mental health and suicide support services especially to the families and friends of those suffering, is also looking to enhance its capacities in the region.

Jeremy Hedley and I sat down with Taryn overcoffee to gain insight into the agency’s work and how best to help change the way we talk about mental illness and suicide.

Taryn said being committed to honestyabout the prevalence of mental illness in our community is the only way to reduce the suicide rate.

“Suicide is not a symptom of any mental illness but it is a symptom of feeling like youcan’t get any help and there’s no other way out, it’s death by fear essentially,” she said.

Obviously we should distinguish normal teenage behaviour from warning signs. The academic, social and hormonal pressures often build to breaking point quite naturally at this age, but Taryn said that if abnormal changes like sleeping way more than usual or losing interest in things that previously gave pleasure continue for more than a couple of weeks, a diagnosis should be sought.

For Taryn, removing the stigma from discussions of mental health and suicide is so important that she doesn’t even like to use the word “stigma”, fearing that this just helps perpetuate it. When it comes to discussing these and other difficult issues, Taryn is like the vast majority of young people we have encountered: refreshingly open and direct.

“I prefer to call it a brain illness rather than a mental illness because it take the problem out of the psychological and plants it in the physiological,” she said.

“We should be treating it like any other disease, you wouldn’t say to someone if only you could wish your tumour away, it just doesn’t work like that. It’s very important to seek professional help if you’re experiencing a mental health issue, once it takes hold no amount of talking yourself down will help.”

Taryn hopes through education tocreateempathy, especially among the older generation who can still struggle to communicate openly and without shame, but the hurdle was getting people torealise mental issues can be diagnosed and that they do not define you for the rest of your life.

In addition to the ChangingMinds program, HelpingMinds also offers an 8-week program called Recovering Our Families and is also developing a series of 1-hour workshops in response to the needs of parents and teachers.

We wish them the very best of luck brining their work more widely to the South West where it is, sadly, so desperately needed. And we congratulate and thank the schools that work to bring such valuable programs to their students for a healthier generation.

–Blayde Grzelka

​Support is available by calling Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800,Lifeline on 131 114, orbeyondblue on 1300 22 46 36.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.