Many people have asked and wondered why The Courier has given such prominence to a tragic incident on the Ballarat train line where a man was killed this week.
This is the third fatality in almost a month in similar circumstances, and while it is not possible to yet establish whether these were tragic accidents or self harm (the coroner will decide this), what we know is these episodes have an enormous impact on a much larger number of people.
We have detailed only the poor train driver who was almost helpless to prevent it and the traumatised passengers who after their initial dismay at the disruption are left with a grim sense of the inexplicable.
This is not even taking into account the impact on the emergency services who are so frequently called out to these incidents, let alone the personal but lingering sense of mystery and ineffable loss to family and friends.
If Wednesday’s fatality was an accident there are safety issues that demand attention but if the cause is connected to mental health then there is an even more pressing demand that as a community we recognise these things are happening and are taking steps to prevent them.
We as a news organisation would not be doing our job if we were to simply sweep another untimely death into silence.
Ballarat has an issue and it demands an open and measured discussion, not to be veiled in the silence of outmoded taboos.
We do not resile from this heavy responsibility nor dispute that the subject of suicide is a painful one.
But the unwelcome appellation of Ballarat as the suicide capital of Victoria, should not be a reason for ignoring the complex issues that cause it.
The figures are well-publicised; Ballarat has the highest suicide rate in Victoria and the fourth highest in the nation’s biggest cities, with 16.7 deaths per 100,000 people each year.
But on a human level we know all too well how every single one of these episodes shake the community and devastate families.
The responsibility for us all to be more aware and more active is greater than ever. Nor should the community feel helpless in the face of these complex problems.
R U OK was started as a campaign, not to compete with he professional help or support so vitally needed but that every member in the community through a simple but sincere conversation can help put in motion the steps to avert a potential tragedy.
These are the conversations we need to have.
If you or somebody you know are suffering mental health problems you can:
- Call Lifeline: 13 11 14
- Call beyondblue: 1300 22 4636
- Suicide call back service: 1300 659 467