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Save Our Suicides - "people power" prevention

The fact that Facebook won't allow the word "suicide" to be used in an event title shows how much the subject has remained taboo in this new electronic information age. While understandable that nobody wants to see folks invite others to their deaths, it certainly doesn't help those who are trying to stop more suicides from happening.

Facebook certainly didn't seem to mind in the days following Trevor Cologne's death. Some of you might recognise the name from GetUp's organising of the candles at Canberra's Parliament House last Monday. Trevor had, after posting cries for help, photographed himself with a rope around his neck, hit the "like" button, and then took his own life. Trevor's personal page, with that picture, remained online for several days.

Around the same time a local country doctor, an advocate for community mental health, had died by his own hand and this was being discussed on radio. Trevor's family gave their permission for his story to be told in the Advertiser. Somewhere between these events, the taboo on the topic lifted, at least for a while, and now more is being done to promote awareness in various arms of the media, in hope that more deaths will be prevented.

The sentiment that more sympathy and support are needed for those left behind, as well as the root problem being fixed, has grown so strong in Adelaide that an event has been planned for Good Friday. Many who've lost friends and loved ones are bringing simple tributes to them, bearing their names, to lay on the steps of our Parliament House. No speeches, no politics, just a dignified remembrance with an underlying hope of a brighter future. Being promoted through the name "SOS: Save Our Suicides", It's being hoped, too, that media coverage of the event will show others how many people's lives are being affected.

It's taken a few days since a small group of people initiated the event for a "people power" to emerge.. but when it did, it took off. So many have been letting friends know, stories are being shared, and a new level of healing seems to be already beginning. There's no doubt that there'll be plenty attending , enough for the pollies to see a mandate in making suicide prevention a far greater priority than it is now.

Why am I so passionately supporting this cause? When I first saw the picture with the rope, a day after Trevor died, it was with a chilling realisation of "There but for the grace of God go I". Actually, God didn't have a lot to do with it ... my family and friends did. I too have had something round my neck ... ten years back. I came to my senses walking around with a microphone cable as a "scarf", feeling compelled to find somewhere to attach it. Luckily I was able to break away from this compulsion and go get help. From this experience (and hearing and reading of others) I think that those who say those who suicide are thinking things they shouldn't mostly haven't been at such a point in their lives to know what they're passing judgement on. I'd reckon that others, like me, were simply looking to not exist any more. As I said, I've been lucky that the support I received has made this a long-past event that I survived.

Many have been able to get help before they've died, many haven't. There is more that can be done to stop folks from getting to this point. Sure it's going to cost money, but everything does. From what I've seen happening in Adelaide over the last week because the subject made it into the media, I've begun to think that a different level of media sensitivity needs to come into play.

If you knew how many people are affected by suicides in your community, you might be quite surprised. While it will not be comfortable for some to participate in events such as the Save Our Suicides one in Adelaide (Parliament House steps on Good Friday at 11am, if you're over this way you'd be made welcome), you’re about to see a lot of people enabling their losses to make a difference, and hopefully help the deaths to stop existing instead of the people they love.

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A quiet and powerful moment

Last week was probably the most emotionally intense of my life.  The many sad stories on the FB pages made me realise how many live in unreported sorrow.  Many of those unable to attend also wrote tales of their personal losses.  I think many people found solace in having this opportunity.

It wasn't a big event, but very meaninful.  Around seventy of us, the vast majority with tragedies in their families, walked up the steps of Parliament House together, placed our tributes in rows, and stepped back down to gaze on them.

It was one of the saddest sights I'd ever seen.  Represented in the flowers were so many lives needlessly lost, and before them a group unified in profound sorrow.

The silence became almost too intense to bear , and when someone in the crowd started singing "Amazing Grace", many joined in, and a sense of life returned.  Even so, when the last notes had faded, many stayed silent, lost in their own memories.

We didn't change the world on Good Friday, but we did prove a need for this deadly issue to be discussed more openly, and for the media to allow more people to talk. 

Enough's enough!

I've been hearing many sad stories the last few days, but none more sad than this note just sent from a friend I hadn't heard from in a while:

I am not sure if you knew ...things are a bit fuzzy still for me...but I attempted to take my life on australia day.

I swallowed drano and have badly burnt my osophagus and ruined my stomach....I spent over a month in intensive care and days on life support.

at the moment I am feeding through a tube and am having an operation in july to try and reconstruct my osophagus using my colon..

How many stories like this don't we hear? I've just heard glad tidings that ABC News is keen to cover the event. There are so many people suffering from suicides and their attempts. It has to be stopped.

I've also just had word of yet another 18 year old local lad taking his life yesterday, leaving behind many grieving people

le chien noir 2

I see folk are responding to Marilyn Shepherd, in some respects she's not entirely wrong. Some times in life, there are "hard yards" and I suspect she has had to do her share of them.

he's having a good chuckle, somewhere..

Marilyn Shepherd, are you sure the man deliberately committed suicide only to leave his debts to his wife? Perhaps other things, minor things like galloping organic depression, could have influenced him into taking the desperate and likely irrational action he took.

Altho, I admit it could be a good way to get back at your spouse for any badly cooked dinners over the period of the marriage.

Personally, I'd be asking what was his state of mind and why are laws that permit one person’s debt to be transferred to another person still allowed in a supposedly civilised society before contemplating a final condemnation of this fellow, short of knowing the full facts.

A good chuckle?

Paul Walter, I concur with your questioning of Marilyn Shepherd. But I will dispute the title of your comment.

In my fortunately limited experience, nobody, but nobody, can ever pretend to understand why another human chooses suicide.

That said, I think that it would be a particularly warped mind - but they do exist - that would choose to burden a surviving spouse with a mountain of debt. It is far more likely that the individual concerned has - for whatever reason, even, possibly, with the best of intentions - mired themselves in financial disaster, and has seen no way out other than self-destruction. 

Compassion, charity, should surely be our first and best response.

le chien noir

Quite so, Fiona Reynolds - misfire as it turns out and in worse taste that was intended, as your sentiments, expressed in your post, are similar to mine.

I know Marilyn was making the point that the law can ensnare people in some unusual situations. I know a friend who was somehow burdened by the debts of her father's estate, which seemed a very unjust thing in itself let alone in consideration of alleged aspects of his fatherhood related by others to this writer at another time and place.

Morituri Diem?

Ferchrssakes Fiona, when the Black Dog bites, all anyone can do is recover.  I'm (fondly) pissed off with Marilyn for such generalisations...  she denigrates many deaths by suggesting a generalised template of suicdes being people dodging responsiblities.

On Marilyn's point of argument it could be assume that suicides are arseholes.  It sounds this way to me.

If that's where she comes from, far from alone.. and that's more than half of the problem!

To be or not to be...

whether it be nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune...

It's curious that people living on the edge of starvation are less likely to voluntarily end their suffering than those that by comparison, live in luxury.

I'm certain that suicidal tendency is a pathological condition and research is vital.

In a way this has a direct connection to  Fiona's last post.

As far as I'm aware they don't do post mortems on suicides; no foul play etc but they should examine the brain.

Don't do drugs, that's a bloody laugh, our brains swim in a cocktail of drugs and when there's an inbalance all kinds of irrational behaviour occur.

Dopamine, seratonin, epinephrine, norepinephrine etc.

Marilyn, nothing in this universe is as simple as it seems. "Get over it", "Pull yourself together" are not helpful. Joe could have filed for bankruptcy and got on with his life but in his state of mind he chose another course.

For those that would understand pathological psychology  read The Tangled Wing. If you're unfamiliar with this work Fiona it's a must and it was to be a present for you.


Richard, it is a sad fact the the majority of suicides are men. 

 In 2008, a total of 1710 males and 481 females died by suicide, representing an incidence rate of 16.0 in every 100,000 men and 4.5 in every 100,000 women.

Men find it difficult to talk about their issues and often keep them bottled up.

I recently did some suicide prevention training - safeTalk - organised by KeepSafe Connection.

Research shows that most men contemplating suicide will tell someone.

One of the prevention techniques is to listen and take any talk of suicide as important. 

We should be aware and not be afraid to discuss the subject.

That's the whole point, Marilyn!

The 18 year old lad I saw after he'd jumped off a bridge and into the path of a train didn't have such a situation as you typecast, Marilyn.  He simply couldn't see a future for himself. And amongst those with mental illnesses the story seems to be much the same.

I don't think that those who take their lives at Christmas and Easter  are doing so for any other reason than that they don't want to live any more.  In my case it was the same... you're not considering what you're leaving behind, just wanting to cease to be.

A major reason I've been helping this project is for people who've been left behind to gather and try to make something good out of what they've endured, and to know that however isolated they've felt in their sadness, they're not alone. 

We are not at odds Richard

The mum who was left with the $250,000 debt after her coward husband shot his brains out never recovered.  She was not young anymore, in her 60's, and he selfishly left her all the problems.

I have never forgotten it.

But if people want to kill themselves who are we to say they can't.


Marilyn, you are showing your compassion again.

A simple answer, but then it gets complicated

There are a lot of folks I know who, after feeling suicidal has passed, abhor the notion and are glad that they stayed alive. I've been involved in supporting many events for disabled people ... many of them with mental disabilities who call themselves "survivors" of the illness.

Tricky one, perhaps, to allow those who want to to do so when there's a great chance they'll change their minds after they manage to not take their lives.

At the other end of the spectrum, though, I'm totally in favour of voluntary euthanasia for those elderly and infirm who'd rather finish their lives with a quality and dignity remaining.

But voluntary euthanasia for an 18 year old by jumping in front of a train is ending a life before it's truly begun. 

Personlly I don't know how I'd have reacted if when, on going for help and saying that I had an urge to die, I was told "That's your right, go for it." In the state I was in at the time, something might well have happened that I'm bloody glad didn't! 

What about those left behind?

I once attempted suicide when I was 19, I talked myself out of it. A few months later I was working as a nurse trainee in my home town hospital. A family friend came to the hospital in an ambulance - he had blown his brains out with a .22. His poor wife was left with debts of $250,000, no insurance and no way to pay for anything. I thought he was such a selfish shit.

When people kill themselves to avoid financial responsibiltiy but happily lumber their wives and kids with the mess I have zero interest in their selfishness.

But here is the thing. Who are we to prevent anyone from killing themselves if they want to? It's not a crime, it's their legal right and the majority are like my old family friend Joe.

Hard Yards

That was spot on, Paul!  What's touched me the most, while helping promote the Adelaide event, has been the number of people that are grateful that this is happening.  People feel a need to do something positive, and coming out to support each other and show who they are and the people they've lost seems to be "hitting the spot".

I have no doubt there'll be hundreds out on Friday ... with the way word's spreading and the warmth with which it's been received, who knows how many more. Cologne's ex-partner is amongst the many confirmed attendees.

It's becoming clear that people who've been affected by these tragedies don't want promises and lenghty rhetoric. They want something to be done to fix the problem, and showing this on the day commerating the world's most famous suicide appears to be a fitting time to show this need.

the long haul

It seems easy for individuals to slip through the cracks in a society that has become fairly atomised, hardened and desensitised to grief and suffering. The solution in our wealthy society is somewhat similar to the one we employ as regards problems as varied as ecological concerns through to attitudes towards those having a bad trot, be it as a result of a war and famine in far off Africa, refugees, or our own having trouble and on the wrong end of societies priorities, like aboriginals.

People duck these things because they are inconvenient when seen close up and because it can often be said that the sufferer is someone else’s responsibility or somehow brought it all on themselves. "She'll be apples, do something about it tomorrow, instead".

As Richard Tonkin points out, that timeline might be fatal for someone doing a really hard rock-bottom type "long dark night of the soul". And as Ricardo says, it’s not always sorted without outside help and sometimes requiring of immediate intervention and longer term help.

This is not to imply a bias toward stickybeakism, but may imply something as easy as a pat on the shoulder or a few minutes' conversation, till the unlucky one spits out their choking lump of grief, despair, fear, and anger. Later on maybe counselling and or medication may help, but not if someone is isolated and comfort is beyond reach, forcing a disastrous and ill-considered response in a fit of despair.

It could be a more effective means of prevention also, except that people are taught to show a "stiff upper lip" and others are inculcated with attitudes like "bugger you, Jack".

Until they lose someone or are subject to some other bad psychic blow and/or experience, the onset of what are actually medical conditions rather than something suggestive of a "weakness of character", as has been the view in the past and amongst more primitive social outlooks even nowadays, how can people relate to others misfortune, anyhow?

Anyway, is this not what a community is supposed to be and to do. No one is an island and no one has omniscient powers, it doesn't matter how strong, smart etc., there will come a time when even the best of us are caught out and need help. It may be down to physical injury where others help a car bingle victim through to something more subtle, like post natal depression, say, involving comfort for a fellow being.

And sooner or later experience will teach an average normal person, no matter how vain or stingy initially, what this means and therefore what to do, in the wake of a usually hard fought for, getting of wisdom unless personal pain precludes generosity, which sometimes happens.

Speaking personally, there have been times when I've been over-confident and overestimated myself and had to learn sharp, painful lessons about my own limitations. I wouldn't be here now, if it wasn't for other people, and often people who had to overlook my resisting negativity to help me. Some of these people I resented, now I know I owe a reasonable life to them, for their patience. I hope that If my likely unworthy and inadequate help is ever required I'll be up to that little bit of effort also.

Not because I want to be superman or receive gratitude and acclaim, but because I know what a losing situation feels like and I want to pay homage to those in the past who have helped me.

As I said above, mental health often relates to treatable neurological imbalances, often incredibly tiny, rather than to some wilful defect of character from someone written off by others as "undeserving".

Some people may never "get it", but many will, if given the chance. A community with a healthy set of values realises this. The Scrooges of this world may eat up resources, but that doesn't absolve me from the duty to help where possible, the others already have their (cold, often) comforts. But most people find that stopping for a moment to think, then help, can be a rewarding experience for the soul, even if it doesn't happen often, at least in my case.

As Dylan more or less says,

If you can’t lend a hand,
then get out of the way (for the times they are changin').

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