It’s always harder to forget the book that rips your heart from your chest. Irene Némirovsky’s, Suite Francaise is that book for me. It’s the story of a group of Parisians, thrown together during the Nazi occupation of their city in 1942. A heady mix of persecution, brutality, missed opportunity, sacrifice and broken families – it’s the most depressing book that I have ever read.
So, there’s very little doubt that Suite Francaise will not be included on the approved reading list for the UK’s new “Books on Prescription Scheme”.
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They’re young, women flock to them, kids want to be them and they have bank accounts the majority of us can only dream of.
Being an athlete for some, is aspirational as fronting Coldplay or starring in a Twilight movie, but over the years for a few of these local sports stars, sitting right alongside their expensive watches and foreign cars, lies a transparent side effect few talk about.
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It was really hard for Sharon* to reach out for help.
For a while now her sleep had been terrible, and each morning she woke up feeling tired and thinking that her life was pointless. She felt alone, scared and full of self-doubt. Sharon had very little motivation and her head was filled with thoughts of failure. Her GP thought it would be a good idea to see a psychologist, so she called the number and made an appointment.
There was no quick fix. Sharon hadn’t told her GP, but as a child she had been subjected to repeated sexual abuse. It wasn’t something she could share at first because she didn’t feel safe trusting anyone with this. For the first few months she just told the psychologist what they wanted to hear.
Male suicide is two and a half times more likely in remote Queensland than in our cities. Last week Mental Health Minister Mark Butler released the Suicide in Rural and Remote Areas of Australia report, which studies suicide in detail but offers precious few solutions.
It is yet another document launch from a federal government with a patchy record in both rural health and mental health policy.
Mental heath is the challenge of our generation. It costs Australia around $6 billion annually, with the bush bearing more than its fair share. The Government doesn’t even have a regional health portfolio. That leaves the Coalition to doggedly pursue Labor to maintain any focus on mental or rural health.
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It is easy to forget that many men with mental illness are fathers, too.
Social worker John Clark only came to recognise the effect depression was having on his parenting 12 months into his illness.
“I avoided the kids by getting up after they’d left, and getting home late at night. I tried to stay in bed on weekends. They were too much for me; too many words, too boisterous, too active, too demanding,” he said recently.
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From next year three year-old children will be screened for mental illness. GPs will screen kids for general physical issues at routine appointments, and three year-olds will also be assessed from the neck up for issues including depression, anxiety, and autism spectrum disorder.
The Healthy Kids Check is a wacky idea, even if it is being promoted with the best of intentions.
While the mental health of our children matters a great deal and there are clearly mental illness concerns for children, a policy that encourages doctors and parents to look for signs of mental illness at such a young age is misplaced and is likely to lead to several problems, all of which are worse than the proposed ‘cure’.
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In giant letters, I’d written “No drugs”. Then, as an afterthought: “Perhaps an epidural if it’s as bad as everyone says.” There was to be no caesarean, no forceps and no bloody Enya on the CD player. I’d bring toffees. You need sugar when you’re, like, birthing another person.
There are few more laughable oxymorons in life than a “birth plan”. However well you think you know your body, all bets are off the second you have a contraction – presuming it is a contraction, of course, because nature also came up with Braxton Hicks, a pseudo contraction which, like much about the birth business, is nonsensically named after a man.
In the event, the birth went like this: 26-hour labour; failure to dilate; gas and air (useless); pethidine (useless). “Breathe,” says husband. “I am breathing, otherwise I’d be dead,” I reply. Baby’s heart rate drops; emergency caesarean. Me shaking with fear, or lack of toffees. Baby arrives; a girl. And in that moment of miracle, life begins anew.
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Down your beers, out-drink and out-fight your mates. Get smashed on the weekends and impress every second chick you meet at a club. Be emotionless, aggressive and show no weakness.
This tough Aussie bloke image has led a dominant social construction of manliness in Australia and sends a message that men don’t and shouldn’t struggle with stress, get depression, anxiety or any mental health issues. But if you do, the antidote to that is a bucket full of cement and some “hardening the f—k up” and she’ll be ‘right.
We’re a nation so obsessed with demanding our blokes be “bullet proof” that it is literally killing us. For many, suicide is an easier option than admitting that you’re having a tough time and need a bit of help.
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It’s a puzzling paradox that while people with mental illnesses are still battling stigma, the ‘worried well’ will gleefully embrace the latest on-trend disorder.
Do you have to triple check that you switched the stove off? OCD! Wake up worrying about the day ahead? Anxiety! A surfeit of pouty Facebook pics? Narcissistic!
In dazzling displays of psychobabble savvy, we also fling diagnoses at bosses, at politicians, at friends. She’s probably a psychopath. He’s got Asperger’s. They’re anally retentive. Or expulsive. Or something.
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One in five is a ratio that gets bandied around a lot when we talk about mental illness. It refers to a fifth of our population who experience it within a 12-month period.
When you stack that up it means almost half us between 16 and 85 encounter some kind of a mental disorder within our lifetime.
With those kinds of numbers it is impossible not to be touched by it in some way. It may not be obvious. It may be as subtle as the depressed friend who took stress leave from work or that drunk relative hiding something deeper.
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One of the lowest points of my life came when I was a 17 year old runaway scratching out a heavily eyelined living as a waitress in Sydney.
Thanks to a Great Dane-sized bout of black dog depression, I’d gone from being a straight-A student to a high school drop-out in a few short months.
In 1987, I was writing three-unit English essays on Jane Austen and dreaming of becoming some sort of millionaire adventurer balloon-ess.
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There’s been a long-standing, slightly confused and often-broken taboo on reporting suicides. Many believe – perhaps without basis – that just talking about suicide could lead to ‘copycats’. But all the important players agree that it should be discussed, and today the Australian Press Council has released new standards for media coverage of suicides. The Punch spoke to Press Council chair Julian Disney about the changes and what he hopes they’ll achieve.
Q. What’s changed?
A. There was a Senate inquiry that gathered evidence from a number of perspectives and found the Mindframe guidelines should be reviewed – and we thought we should review ours as well. In particular that related to whether there was a feeling in the media that discussion of suicide was taboo. Our guidelines never said that (it should be taboo), and the Mindframe ones didn’t either.
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The recent Federal budget has underlined the fact that mental ill-health is the major health issue facing Australians in the early part of the 21st century.
Responding to the reality that Australians now regard mental health among the top three national concerns, just behind the economy and climate change, all sides of politics now support substantial growth in investment in mental health care.
The Gillard Government allocated $2.2 billion as a decent down payment in a tight budget on mental health reform, crucially beginning to build strength in early intervention models for young people, who bear the main burden of onset for the major mental disorders of adult life.
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Many people in Australia live with a mental illness, and unfortunately, many think about suicide.
I know from personal experience.
I have depression and attempted suicide in 2005. I thank God every day that I did not complete my attempt, but I know exactly how real the risk of suicide is.
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For a blubbering, lonely, unlucky-in-love, toxic politician with a ‘hit-me’ sign on his back, SA Police Minister and former Treasurer Kevin Foley sure has risen in my estimations.
I can’t believe he’s still standing. I can’t believe he hasn’t packed his bags (no, not just for his latest overseas jaunt) and signed a lucrative deal for his own guts-spilling talkback radio show.
I can’t believe he only slightly teared up at his press conference last Monday. I’d have been pulling my hair out, frothing at the mouth and howling with sheer exasperation. Not least because of the double standards that have applied to him and Premier Mike Rann in the past 18 months.
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On Monday, yet another young driver appeared in yet another court room to be punished for his role in the death of yet another innocent teenager. The victim in this case was 16 year old T.J. Hutchesson of Bathurst.
The name of the accused can’t be reported. In a sense the names don’t matter: for those of us looking on, this is just another episode in a long and tragic storybook of life destroyed far too young.
In a statement appearing in The Sydney Morning Herald, mother Rachael Hutchesson did not shy away from identifying the problem: boredom and booze. This is a known issue in regional Australia, and yet there is a real paucity of frankness when it comes to solutions.
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Our mental health priorities are seriously out of whack.
Australia’s mental health system is a shambles. It’s under-funded and plagued by bureaucracy and a lack of political will.
People in desperate need of help are slipping through the cracks, as bed numbers dive and community support fails to reel in the slack.
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On the eve of his appearance at Sydney’s World Happiness Conference last week, Edward de Bono was asked what type of people he thought would attend the annual two-day series.
“I don’t know,” he replied. ‘‘I do know, however, that people are becoming more interested in happiness. Happiness as an industry is becoming more visible.”
A kind of warming observation on the surface, but dig a little deeper and I think you’ll also find that our “pursuit of happiness’ is beginning to resemble more of a crazed quest. But it won’t get us anywhere until we accept that feelings of sadness, bewilderment and loss are also a completely normal part of the full experience of life.
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Let me tell you the story of Shane Dolan.
I met him two decades ago, when I was in Ethiopia for Four Corners, filming “The Forgotten Famine”, which I wrote about in this space a month ago.
Shane was an aid worker. Not the kind who hands out food at emergency relief centres, but the kind who works for the long term.
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Sunday mornings are usually a fairly quiet affair in my apartment until around 11am when my swollen bladder, thumping headache and noisy neighbours force me from the safety of my bed.
Last Sunday however was special as I managed the truly Olympic effort of making it downstairs to the couch by the crack of 10am. However seconds after collapsing victoriously onto the couch to enjoy this small victory I was assailed by suggestions for ‘fun things to do’ from my ever perky med-student ‘houseguest’.
Ms Gen Y was absolutely bursting with energy after her 3 hours of sleep, I on the other hand felt like Amy Winehouses’ liver, so I politely declined her invitation. She insisted. I more forcefully declined. She begged. I told her to leave me alone and flee the country - and that’s when she told me I had SCTD.
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In April 1995 my father, Barry Larkin, took his own life. He had been the major influence in my life and his death was completely devastating. I honestly felt like I was broken and I would never (could never) be “fixed”.
I experienced, first hand, the collateral damage of suicide; something at least 1900 Australian families experience every year. The ABS is currently revising how it categorises death by suicide and estimates the actual total could be as high as 3500.
In the aftermath of a suicide, friends and family often end up on a massive emotional roller coaster, which can seem never ending. You can be despairing, sad, confused, betrayed, guilty, angry, sentimental and grief stricken all in the space of a minute. Yet each of those emotions can be so complete and so raw that you feel more alive but less in control, than you’ve ever felt before.
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Note: For the background to this piece read SA Treasurer Kevin Foley’s unprompted tell-all interview here.
Regardless of whether you think Kevin Foley is a good bloke and a talented treasurer, or a boofhead and an economic incompetent, only the most flint-hearted observer could watch his unravelling this week and not feel some empathy for the man.
In order to succeed in the often horrible business of politics, politicians must almost dehumanise themselves – that is, they must think through everything they do, what they say, how they dress, who they are friends with, how they choose to spend their limited free time, because everything they do has potential political ramifications.
Right down to the level of getting your partner and kids to put on their glad rags for the glossy mailout you send out to 20,000-odd households once every four years, projecting yourself as the very epitome of domestic bliss.
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Geelong wears its heart on its sleeve.
This past week and a half, the city has had a spring in its step as high as the centre bounce at the MCG as we bask in the glory and triumph of our football team.
The euphoria is plain to see in the flags across town, the streamers still hanging off car aerials and the little kids refusing to take off their increasingly grubby blue and white jumpers.
Channel Nine’s decision yesterday to cave in to the bullying of the Victorian Government and Beyond Blue is deeply depressing. No doubt the network could see it was in a lose-lose situation.
Even if it were to win in the courts and have the injunction lifted which prevented it from broadcasting a 60 Minutes piece on the suicides of four teenagers in Geelong, it would be forever hostage to the accusation it had blood on its hands if any others from the school were to take the final solution.
The yellow bumper sticker on his suitcase says “I’d rather die like a dog” and if anyone knows how dogs die it’s Dr Philip Nitschke, who slit one’s throat when he was a teenager.
It’s a story which Nitschke wishes would go away. But in the context of his latest snappy euthanasia slogan, plastered over his luggage as he was questioned in Heathrow this weekend, it’s one that is worth re-telling.
Nitschke has told it a few times in media profiles - reluctantly, because he is aware his critics regard it as a pointer to adult instability, rather than the isolated act of a homesick 15-year-old boarder sent to live in Adelaide with an abusive landlord whose barking dog was driving him mad.
“It got so grim there…you feel like killing the people involved and you know you can’t do that and you end up killing the dog,” Nitschke told Andrew Denton’s Enough Rope in 2007.
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