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In some parts of Australia, death comes far too easily

In some parts of Australia, death comes far too easily

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Published by Daniel Piotrowski
Column on The Punch, 15/09/2011, http://www.thepunch.com.au/articles/in-some-parts-of-australia-death-comes-far-too-easily/
Column on The Punch, 15/09/2011, http://www.thepunch.com.au/articles/in-some-parts-of-australia-death-comes-far-too-easily/

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Published by: Daniel Piotrowski on Jan 29, 2012
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In some parts of Australia, death comes far too easily Column published at The Punch, 15/09/2011 DANIEL PITROWSKI

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. ³Come 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. The Rudd Government¶s former top mental health advisor John Mendoza told The Punch the suicide rate in the Kimberley, in far northwestern Australia, is currently 7 times the national average. In Cape York it is generally around 4 times the average. A huge number of these deaths have been indigenous kids. In February, seven indigenous kids in the Kimberley ± one a 13 year old girl ± took their lives. Is there anything more dreadful than this happening in Australia? Why is this happening? ³The most honest answer is we really don¶t know [why they¶re committing suicide],´ says Emeritus Professor Bob Goldney, the former head of psychiatry at the University of Adelaide. ³There¶s issues associated with psychiatric illness, the abuse of

substances ± especially alcohol. And there¶s the precursor of that in a sense of being displaced from their land.´ Today is R U OK Day, the national day of action on suicide started by former advertising dynamo Gavin Larkin. The idea is you might approach a co-worker, a friend or a family member and ask them if they¶re okay and if they need help. R U OK says one in ten Aussies asked someone if they were OK on this day last year. But Professor Goldney doesn¶t reckon it does all that much. ³It¶s feel-good and you can get a politician to inaugurate it, but does it do much good?´ he says. ³It probably won¶t do any harm, but I can¶t see it doing much good really.´ R U OK might be a start - if the campaign is even getting through to remote communities. But the troubled souls in some of these communities need much more than just one conversation, one day of the year. According to John Mendoza, the Federal Government¶s former mental health advisor, Australia just isn¶t doing enough. ³In very small, very remote indigenous communities the response of government and services on the ground is too slow and no where near adequate enough,´ Mendoza says. Mendoza says that the Kimberley now has things like 24/7 standby bereavement services that help communities bounce back from the grief caused by these suicides. And over the years governments have also introduced pilot programs to get indigenous kids working, in ecotourism and as sports guides for instance. But after two or three years their funding typically gets pulled. ³That¶s not really the way to respond to what is an endemic problem,´ Mendoza says. ³We¶ve got to make sure we stay at this task for a generation.

³We want to be able to see in a generation that we¶ve kept at this, we haven¶t stopped and started as has typically been the path [with mental health policies] over the past 25 years.´ A couple of months ago in the UK, I was transfixed at the window by the woman who was about to jump. She didn¶t, in the end. She was talked down by the Bobby on the street. R U OK is all about conversations. And it was a conversation that brought this woman back from the precipice. The Bobby even cracked a few jokes while he did it. But the thing is, we need to have many conversations about what¶s going on in the Kimberley, and in Cape York, in Alice Springs ± and in Sydney and Adelaide and all the major cities. Serious, complicated, even political conversations about mental illness with every Australian, in every corner of Australia. For generations. Because what¶s happening in some remote indigenous communities just shouldn¶t be happening in 21st century Australia. If you¶re having trouble, Lifeline offers 24 hour crisis support on 13 11 14.

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