When I think about suicide it is for one of two reasons. First, the system that is supposed to help and protect me is so inaccessible and combative that the future is too bleak to go on. The second is that I am just too exhausted to continue. This issue, of course, ties into the nature of the chronic illness from which I suffer. But the first point is more systematic and it is the reason why I cringe at ‘suicide prevention’ funding and programs.
A recent study in the US showed that in states where gay marriage was legalised, suicide rates in young LGTBQI people were substantially lower than states where gay marriage wasn’t legalised. Researchers found that while marriage was not at the forefront of the minds of young LGTBQI people, its legalisation meant it was a possibility. This in turn showed young people there was a possibility for something brighter later in life.
Suicide prevention programs and funding usually focus on two things: raising awareness and asking for help. After a lifetime in the advocacy game, I will quite firmly and confidently tell you that raising awareness is not a legitimate or effective campaign objective. It is not enough. It is virtually impossible to measure. It is a poor substitute for actual action; a poor substitute for actual change.
Asking for help is important to develop coping mechansims and medical assistance. But what about when there is no help? What about when the situation that has led you to these thoughts isn’t solely due to mental illness; when the problem isn’t medical but is multilayered, bureaucratic and socially systemic?
It is poor effort for a government to announce an increase in ‘suicide prevention’ programming when they are cutting the welfare that the most vulberable Australians rely on, when the housing crisis means more and more people are homeless and forced into extreme housing stress. When the disability support pension is so difficult to apply for that the most vulnerable can’t manage the bureaucracy required, when even those trying to do the right thing are penalised when they can’t meet changing criteria for the maintenence of payments. When they live in constant fear that Centrelink will send them a bill for thousands of dollars. When their disability restricts their mobility, preventing their attendance at appointments made just because they need to be.
When employers won’t consider flexibility needed to capitalise on the skills of someone with a disability. When universities are so inflexible that they threaten to cancel the enrollment of intelligent, capable students with special needs. When public spaces and social norms make social engagement virtually impossible and society says that only healthy people are suitable mates for intimate relationships.
When the government defunds the community legal centres that provide assistance to victims of domestic violence that is both a leading cause of disability amoung young women and a high risk factor for victimisation. Those community legal centres also provide the disability discrimination lawyers who work with clients that universities are threatening.
Do you know what it’s like to listen to four consecutive federal budget speeches and know that you are the person the government is talking about when they coin the term ‘leaners’ when they talk of the burden of social security? When your senator undertakes a major survey of their constituents, questioning the very existence of the public health scheme that is supposed to allow you to engage in society in a more holistic way?
I am no psychologist. I am not an expert in public health. I am not a psychiatrist either or a mental health professional of any description. But I know what my experience has shown to be too much to deal with. In my experience public interventions that reduce these structural issues are a far more important intervention than raising awareness about suicide in Australia.
The number of Australians who know that suicide is a problem will not stop me ending my own life. But if there were fewer battles to face to keep a roof over my head and allow me to meaningfully contribute to society in accordance with my own strengths and capabilities, that would stop me wanting to end my own life.