Suicide prevention is everyone’s problem
Anyone who has watched the news or listened to the radio over the past few weeks would have heard of the inquest into the death of Channel Ten newsreader Charmaine Dragun, who committed suicide at the Gap in 2007.
From all reports Charmaine was an intelligent and bright young woman who had a promising career ahead of her as a television broadcaster. However, she was troubled and ultimately this became too much for her to bear.
Charmaine’s career was in the electronic media, an industry with its own special pressures, egos and preference for perfection. The media is competitive – absurdly so – and I imagine it was unlikely anyone dealing with self doubt and anxiety would feel comfortable discussing their situation and reaching out to a colleague for support.
My background is in the law - another competitive field.
I worked at two big firms and I found my roles rewarding, competitive and demanding.
Law firms continue to be places of excellence, achievement and competition, and often, they can be places where lawyers – especially young people - find themselves under enormous pressure.
But the profession is addressing the issue and this week they launched a program called Resiliance@Law, a collaboration that aims to shine a light on mental illness in the legal workplace and help young lawyers deal with issues.
The point of highlighting this initiative is that combating mental illness requires building awareness and resilience, identifying and reaching out to those in need and providing pathways to treatment.
Mental illness is one of the most common and significant factors behind suicide in Australia.
In fact, every day, six to seven Australian die by suicide and for every person lost by suicide, there are approximately 30 others who have made an attempt.
These figures are 40% higher than deaths caused on our roads – a figure I find completely unacceptable. And in Australia, it is young men who are most frequently lost to suicide.
Consider the plan of Sydney’s Woollahra Council to upgrade facilities around the Gap to help prevent suicides.
The Federal Government recently approved funding for CCTV cameras - a small part of the plan - after long delays. The cameras will enable police to respond more quickly to incidents at the Gap.
But a key part of the plan, a new fence, motion sensor lights and a free 24-hour emergency phone, remain unfunded despite advocacy from the community, from council and from parliamentarians.
The Federal Government’s refusal to fund this part of the Gap plan is deeply disappointing, to say the very least.
Somehow they are unable to find a mere $3 million to fund a project, which on any reasonable estimation, will save lives.
I urge NSW Premier Kristina Kenneally to use any influence she has with Federal Labor to secure this funding in the May Budget and, by doing that, help make a real difference in preventing suicide in NSW.
I am passionate about fighting mental illness because I also recognise the profound individual, familial, social and economic costs of such illness.
Take a look at the recently released Intergenerational Report 2010 which details the complex mix of long-term challenges Australia faces — an ageing and growing population and escalating pressures on the health system.
These challenges will place substantial pressure on Australia’s economy, our living standards and on government finances over the next 40 years.
For all these reasons, we need healthy people who, unencumbered by mental illness, will make a strong contribution to our economy.
Demystifying mental illness, combating ignorance and prejudice is a first step to fighting it. This includes identifying and reaching out to those in need; building resilience skills; making treatment options available and providing practical preventative measures.
And then the fight also requires research to understand and address the causes of mental illness.
Why am I campaigning for better understanding of mental health?
The answer is that I am a mother of two children. I want to ensure that the environment my kids grow up in is free of prejudice and stigma towards people dealing with intense but treatable issues, like mental illness. It is that simple.
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