To stop people dying, we must make it easier for them to live – By Daniel Mezrani – 28 April 2018
I decided it was time to reveal that it was not a heart attack or some other physical ailment that had claimed my father’s life, but suicide. My intention was not to shock, traumatise or evoke pity, but to start a conversation.
In many ways, I understand why a productive national conversation about suicide has eluded us for so long. The idea of someone taking their own life is fundamentally disturbing, and therefore fraught in the public forum.
It is often the subject of moralisation and reductionism, which are unhelpful at best and dangerous at worst.
In the most disturbing of cases, it is glamourised, and we needn’t look too far afield for examples of this. It soon becomes apparent why the issue is often just not discussed at all, stifled by (well-intentioned) responsible reporting guidelines.
I don’t think that suicide should be viewed as a purely psychiatric issue.
The idea that suicide is always the consequence of a definable mental illness continues to dominate the public consciousness despite a growing consensus among the academic community that there is much more at play.
The clues are all around us – why is it, for instance, that women experience slightly higher rates of anxiety and depression than men, but men are three times more likely to kill themselves?
A new paradigm in suicide prevention emerges – if we begin to see people in context, we become privy to external factors that may be causing them distress and can thus look out for more subtle cues that they may be at risk.
If we’re serious about tackling suicide, we need to see it for the complex cultural issue that it is.
The final common pathway is not neurochemical disturbance or a discrete socioeconomic stressor, it is an anguish that feels otherwise inescapable; hopelessness manifest.
What is it about our society that allows a person to reach this point of no return?
That’s the right question to be asking.
Do we still maintain a culture, however indirectly, in which emotional distress is equated with weakness of character? Is our almost religious respect for independence and stoicism causing subtle, pernicious damage?
These are the questions we need to be asking.
There is no simplicity in this conclusion, but there is promise.
It means that anything we do to address stigma, discrimination and hardship at a systemic level has the potential to bring down our national suicide rate.
If we really want to stop people dying in this most horrific way, we need to make it easier for them to live.
With this, I agree wholeheartedly.
It is time that the issue of suicide is approached with the abstract thinking it needs.
There is no single solution, but rather several that will slowly work in tandem.
Incremental improvements in our cultural and political spheres can have profound impacts on those thinking about taking their own life. They are tangible reminders that things can get better, and that we are never, ever alone.
Author: Daniel Mezrani is a science student at the University of Sydney.