The last great taboo

SUICIDE doesn't discriminate.

The Causes of Death report from the Australian Bureau of Statistics released last year found 2130 Australians took their own lives in 2009. That compared to 1417 road deaths for the year and 1837 from skin cancer.

The rarely-discussed topic seemingly touches everyone in our society, whether it be family members, workmates or social groups.

According to Australian research, the construction industry and the various industries which support it, face a higher risk of suicide and mental illness than many other occupations.

Gay and lesbian Australians often face a number of unique challenges which can affect their mental health and potentially lead to suicidal thinking and actions.

The pressure and competitiveness someone may feel at work can have devastating and life changing effects — yet many of the signs of mental illness, depression and suicide go unnoticed.

Suicide is the largest killer of Australian youth, responsible for one-in-four deaths of Australians aged under 25.

Former Australian of the Year Patrick McGorry encapsulated the difficulties we have in discussing, and reporting, suicide in an article published on website

In part, Professor McGorry explained: "As a society we remain reluctant to talk about suicide for fear it will inspire 'copycat' behaviour.

"As a result, the media fails to bear witness to the corrosive effects of these daily deaths on the family and friends of those who take their lives.

"Our lack of conversation around the topic has only endorsed the silence that surrounds our young people who often feel too ashamed, too guilty and too stigmatised to put up their hand and ask for help.

"They are trapped in a bubble: a cone of silence which neither they nor those around them can easily penetrate.

"If a young person does feel suicidal it is likely that they are frightened by these feelings. But so are their peers and parents.

"The taboo colludes with the natural desire of parents and friends to hope for the best and assume all is well even though real clues are present."

Professor McGorry has been a major advocate for changing approaches to mental health and its consequences in recent years, with some success.

Yet the rate of suicide remains extremely high. Even higher in regional and rural areas. Disturbingly so in Ballarat and surrounds.

Funding for a Headspace centre in Ballarat, which helps young people who might be at risk, will help.

Yet we can't help but be concerned that the unique circumstances faced by governments and welfare services in providing a clear method of understanding and dealing with these issues remains extremely challenging.

As Professor McGorry also explained, the silence must end.

The Ballarat Suicide Prevention Network, set up to assist those touched by suicide, held its annual general meeting this week. For more information contact Des Hudson on 0409 865 093.

If you are concerned about someone close to you, SANE Australia has information sheets about identifying the warning signs. Go to

Lifeline - 13 11 14 (24-hour help line)

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