This evening, the radio DJs Mel Greig and Michael Christian sat down with the TV networks to tell their side of the story about the suicide death of a nurse who had transferred their prank call on.
Talking to A Current Affair, they talked about their pain. They pleaded ignorance of the process 2Day FM follows approving prank calls. And they told of other phone calls. The calls that told them Jacintha Suldanha had died. “It was the worst phone call of my life,” a sobbing Grieg said. Read all about it at News.com.au.
On the weekend, Irish crooner Brian McFadden tweeted: “Men who hit women are pathetic. Women who make excuses and stay with the guy are just as bad.”
In case that needs clarification, what he is saying is that a victim of domestic violence is as bad as a perpetrator of domestic violence. She is just as bad as the man hitting her.
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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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THIS week the NT News and Sunday Territorian kicked off our suicide prevention and awareness campaign, called Speak Up. So in the spirit of speaking up, I share with you the story of my friend.
She was in her late 20s when someone very close to her died suddenly. It was a loss that changed her life. We could all see she was struggling - she stopped eating, she barely spoke, her face was constantly tear-streaked and she was more interested in spending time alone than with us.
Though sometimes we could distract her for short spurts and we’d share a smile or a laugh with her, none of us could take her despair away. None of us could reverse what had happened.
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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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We were 15. Girls still, as this was another era. Our lives fused through Friday night sleepovers, caravanning holidays and shared tubes of Clearasil.
Saturday morning sport. Afternoons with the blow-dryer. Then off on our bikes in our pastel jeans – no hands, no helmets – squealing through the park as we pedalled to meet the boys.
Discos, where I’d kiss them and M wouldn’t because she was always cooler than me. Dancing to Depeche Mode – “I just can’t get enough, I just can’t get enough”. And we couldn’t. But it all changed that summer of 1982.
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Recent bad press about Aboriginal programs in NSW might make you think that all programs designed to help Aboriginal people are failing. But this is not the case.
A boxing program, “Clean Slate without Prejudice”, has delivered great results since it first began in June 2009.
An initiative of Redfern Superintendent Luke Freudenstein and Aboriginal leaders, the program involves police training alongside local Aboriginal youth three mornings a week. Accompanying the ducking and jabbing is some good natured ribbing as the police and young Aboriginal people get to know each other.
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It was only Day 13 of the New Year, 2012. And on this day, I attended the funeral of the eighth South Australian Aboriginal person to die – the eighth death in our small community this year. And it was only Day 13.
These eight deaths are not of Aboriginal people who have lived to a ripe old age. The funerals were not celebrations of long and productive lives. No, they were all premature deaths, some of them violent, all premature and preventable.
Aboriginal people are always at funerals. We attend out of respect for our people and community. We give our condolences and cry for our loved ones.
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Often, I use the privilege of being a journalist to write some flippant observation or other about life according to one working mother with an eye for the ridiculous and very little shame.
But I couldn’t let this week pass without writing about a deeply serious subject that has touched thousands of Melburnians in the last couple of weeks; the suicide of a high-achieving school captain at a prominent private secondary school.
When it happened, the ripples spread well beyond the school community to parents and students who knew the boy from Melbourne’s sprawling school social network - who were calling and texting each other madly in states of high distress, just as the Year 12 exams began.
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A couple of months ago I was gallivanting around the UK on a holiday. One night I popped up to the apartment I was crashing at to grab my jacket when I heard a voice through the window from the road below.
“Come on darlin’, you don’t have to do this.” Across the road a woman had climbed up onto the third story of some scaffolding. She wasn’t particularly sober, she’d tied a noose around her neck and she was about to jump.
If today is a typical day, by the time you’ve hit the hay tonight nearly 178 Aussies will have attempted to end their lives. Seven would have gone through with it. It’s a national tragedy. And in some remote parts of Australia it’s just tragedy after tragedy after tragedy after tragedy.
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R U OK? Day is with us again today, challenging us to reach out to others with compassion. The R U OK? concept is simple but potentially profound for several reasons.
One in five Australians will personally experience clinical depression or a bipolar disorder over their lifetime. If not touched personally, we encounter the so-called Black Dog through family members, partners, close friends or work colleagues.
Despite being common, mental illness is still stigmatised, perhaps reflecting our innate tendency to reject anything that is ‘not us’ or to view depression as a character flaw.
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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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In July last year, the South Australian Coroner Mark Johns called for suicide statistics to be published alongside the road toll. Since that time, just over 100 South Australians have died on the state’s roads. More than 180 South Australians have killed themselves.
Despite Mr Johns’ call, suicide statistics remain unpublished. The topic by and large remains taboo. And desperate people keep taking their own lives because their mental illness isn’t properly treated, or because friends and family don’t have the confidence or the skills to raise this most delicate of subjects.
As a community, we’ve got to stop being so squeamish about suicide. It’s the single biggest cause of death for Australian females aged 15-34 and males 15-44. Latest statistics show that 2130 Australians took their own lives in 2009, compared to 1417 road deaths for the year and 1837 from skin cancer.
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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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Mental health advocates - including Patrick McGorry and SA coroner Mark Johns - have called for a public toll, similar to the road toll, to highlight suicides. Meanwhile, a spate of suicides - including the death of a doctor who was a mental health advocate - have renewed fears the sector is unable to cope. Lifeline and News Digital Media, publisher of The Punch, today announce a project that will help Australians access online, anonymous, confidential support.
With suicide being the leading cause of death for young Australians, you think that you’d find a plethora of information and support online to help those in crisis.
Suicide kills more Australians than road accidents each year. In 2008, 2191 people took their own lives, while the road toll was below 1450. These figures don’t include the tens of thousands more who attempt taking their own lives each year. Nor do these figures include the hundreds of thousands of people who are either bereaved or contemplating suicide, or both.
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Entrepreneur and philanthropist Simon McKeon succeeded Professor Patrick McGorry as Australian of the Year yesterday. Yet in the year of Professor McGorry’s reign, the Federal Labor Government has largely remained silent on the very issue McGorry was recognised for; mental health.
According to the most recent figures, 2,191 Australians took their own lives in 2008.
Statistics tell us at least ten times that - another 20,000 - were hospitalised for self harm or an attempt. And this is a conservative figure, with ongoing debate about discrepancies between ABS figures, and coroner and police reports.
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Today the parliament of South Australia is due to debate a bill to legalise medically assisted suicide in that state.
Should the bill pass, Australia’s “festival state” will assume the dubious and rather un-festive honour of being the first to make doctor assisted suicide available to its residents.
Unlike the Northern Territory’s 1996 legislation, the federal government would be unable to overturn the South Australian Bill should it pass into law.
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Matthew Clayfield is a freelance journalist, critic and screenwriter travelling through the US and Mexico. He is filing weekly postcards for The Punch.
I am writing this postcard, my first dispatch as a freelance travel writer, from a bar in San Francisco. Arguably, this is the greatest workplace in the world for an alcoholic typist like myself: the gin is cold, the pianist’s songs are old, and the tips are necessarily low. The San Francisco Chronicler’s Charles McCabe, who died in 1983, was once asked:” If San Francisco is such a great place to live, “why does it have the nation’s highest rates of alcoholism and suicide?” McCabe responded almost instantaneously: “Why, for the simple reason it’s the finest place on earth to drink yourself to death.”
It’s also the finest place on earth to throw yourself into the ocean, as cinephiles everywhere are only too aware. In Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Kim Novak famously throws herself into San Francisco Bay underneath the Golden Gate Bridge, only to be rescued moments later by Jimmy Stewart, who suffers from the film’s titular affliction. Vertigo contains a number of Hitchcock’s most famous scenes, not to mention some of cinema’s, but this one more than any other has always had an indelible effect on me. For many people’s money, Vertigo is the quintessential San Francisco film. For mine, Novak’s leap into the bay is the quintessential San Francisco scene.
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It’s Thursday @ The Punch
The body of Kurt Cobain, lead singer of band Nirvana was found in his Seattle home on this day in 1994. He had comitted suicide.
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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.
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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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While the National Conference of the Labor Party has been protecting the sanctity of other people’s marriages (a topic for another day, perhaps), the House of Lords in the UK has been grappling with the complexities of helping one’s loved one board the plane to Switzerland. The case is called R (on the application of Purdy) v Director of Public Prosecutions.
Under the Suicide Act 1961, suicide is not illegal in England. However, the piece of legislation makes it a criminal offence to assist another to take their own life.
But assisted suicide is not an offence in Switzerland.
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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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