This has been a terrible week for many families who have lost loved ones but even harder for those, and there are many in Ballarat, who must summon up the courage to talk about one of the oldest of taboos - suicide.
But one man, John Shanahan is determined to break that taboo. He has paid a terrible price for his new resolution, the loss of a son. This son Nathan, a returned serviceman and firefighter, himself dedicated his energy and passion to having PTSD more publicly recognised and tackled.
This year a report from Dr Sam Harvey maintains an astonishing 10 per cent of police, fire, rescue and ambulance workers are suffering PTSD with rates likely to be higher if retirees are taken into account.
If one in 10 emergency service workers are affected by the condition then resources are key to creating a sustainable force and the services vital to a functioning society. For at-risk occupations this issue must be considered as seriously as Occupational Health and Safety, demanding an institution like Worksafe. Perhaps most of all the culture must change where, after suffering the typical pressures, the consequences are not seen as some kind of weakness. Historically this is written into our culture and perhaps more dangerously into the culture of a workplace where you have to “man-up” and tell–tale signs of impact are interpreted as weakness. As with military before them, where generations of concealed trauma led to one of the most destructive legacies of war, all emergency workers are owed this much for the work they do.
But at its heart the problem of suicide is even broader. In 2015, 3027 people died by suicide or equal to over 8 people per day across Australia. How many are in Ballarat we do not know but we do have a perfect storm of contributing factors; the scourge of sexual abuse and its devastating legacy, bullying in our schools, online torments for vulnerable kids and a plethora of under-funded mental health issues. Not for the first time have we said a death toll this high would be called a national crisis if it was a disease or the road toll.
Tragically for Nathan Shanahan and his family, the battle with PTSD and mental health overcame him. But his father is determined that his son’s battle is not in vain and this worst of life outcomes, suicide, becomes a central focus in our struggle with mental health issues. It is a struggle we must tackle openly as a community and curtail the terrible costs. We owe Nathan that much.
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