The Hon. G.G. BROCK (Frome) (12:15): I move: That this house—
(a) acknowledges that 9 September 2020 is World Suicide Prevention Day;
(b) acknowledges that world prevention day started in 2003;
(c) acknowledges that in excess of 3,000 people die from suicide every year;
(d) acknowledges that suicide is one of the largest causes of death each year;
(e) encourages people of all ages to openly discuss and acknowledge deaths by suicide;
(f) encourages people of all ages to openly discuss their mental health and wellbeing issues with family and friends;
(g) acknowledges the everlasting impact and effect of any death on family members and others; and
(h) encourages the state government to provide sufficient support, both financial and other support, as necessary.
The member for Heysen has just seen me, and he has a couple of small adjustments in the dates and there a couple of words missing. He is going to put through an amendment, which I do not have a problem with; however, what I would have done is spoken to the member and had the member adjust it himself.
Suicide is a matter that the general public does not talk openly about even though there are more than 3,000 Australians each year who end their life. This equates to about eight per day. That may not sound like a lot when mentioned in that manner; however, we lose more people to suicide than we do to road deaths. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have higher suicide rates compared with the general population; in fact, they are twice as high.
Suicide is also the leading cause of death among young people. In 2017, suicide accounted for more than one-third—in actual fact, 36 per cent of young people aged 15 to 24. To prevent suicide and reduce these numbers, it is important to make sure all Australians get the support they need. It is very important that we discuss this issue openly without fear of feeling weak or not macho.
In 2018, as I said earlier, in excess of 3,000 Australian people took their own life and these figures are identified by the relevant authorities. These do not include motor vehicle accidents, where comments have been made to me by members of SAPOL across all regions that over 30 per cent of road deaths could be attributed to suicide. For each life lost to suicide, the impact is felt by up to 135 people, including family members, work colleagues, friends, and first responders at the time of death.
Australia is a unique, rich and diverse society that is made up of a range of cultures, backgrounds, religions and different nationalities, and it is these experiences that make our society what it is today. I am a strong believer that every person deserves to live in an inclusive, just and equal society that respects and promotes individuality, dignity and diversity and supports people to live a meaningful, rich and fulfilling life.
For many Australians, however, experiences of discrimination, isolation or additional challenges due to their cultural background, religion or beliefs are prevalent, and these experiences may have an impact on an individual, a family or a community’s mental health and wellbeing. Today, with the current challenge of COVID-19, with our health issues and the economic employment future, we need to be very mindful of the concerns and feelings of our multicultural communities. In my own community at Port Pirie, we have several different nationalities and what I consider is a blueprint for other locations with multicultural populations to look at. In Port Pirie and our surrounds, we are very concerned with everyone and make no differentiation to any of the cultures.
As a male, when I was brought up I was encouraged not to speak about any issues such as mental health or anxiety concerns for fear of being targeted physically or subconsciously feeling that I was a failure. From my own personal experiences, I have always talked about taking the first step. That is probably the hardest thing a male person—or anyone for that matter—can do; that is, to realise and accept that you actually may have something wrong with you or acknowledge the fact that you need an out, you need a spell to gather your feelings or emotions.
However, once you have taken the first step, things get a hell of a lot easier. This was the case with my late brother, who resided in Melbourne during a period of time when he appeared to be withdrawing from his normal jovial self. As a family, we live in different locations in South Australia. We knew there appeared to be something disturbing him.
We asked what we could do to cheer him up and tried to ascertain what was disturbing him. His comments were that there was nothing wrong, only that he was tired. To our regret to this day, we did not push the issue further, as he allowed his feelings of fear to overcome his ability to control his emotions and he eventually took his own life.
To this day, I cannot completely read the note that he was writing to his family as it expressed his fear, his feelings of failure, his thoughts about his remaining family members and the tears that he was crying while he was doing this on his computer. It brings to those remaining the understanding the trauma these people must be going through whilst contemplating their next move.
Daily challenges, emotional distress and suicide can affect anyone regardless of their race, religion or gender. The challenges, the pressures and stresses that we face can impact on our physical, emotional and mental health and also our wellbeing and it can be helpful to receive support. For some men, accessing services and seeking support can be a challenge and it is a very difficult first step to take. There are many signs that can be identified:
- physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle aches, tension, weight loss or gain;
- feeling angry or aggressive;
- increased nervousness, agitation, or restlessness;
- increased use of alcohol or drugs, or increased gambling;
- feeling helpless or out of control;
- losing interest in activities that you usually enjoy;
- thoughts of harming yourself or others; and
- feeling helpless, guilty or like a failure or a burden to others.
Sometimes we, myself included, may overlook our younger generations, whom many of us consider do not have any problems that may lead to them contemplating suicide. Let me reassure members here that this could not be further from the truth. I came across some secondary school students a couple years ago and inquired how they were going and their comments were, ‘Stressed out of my mind.’
This really threw me back after having discussions with them, not mentioning the word ‘suicide’ but just in general conversation. It was a mixture of several issues: their upcoming school examinations, as well as issues at home with their parents having financial issues. Also, in a couple of cases, it was because of bullying, both physical, mental and also bullying on social media. In this case, it was on Facebook.
To be honest, I did not know how to bring the word ‘suicide’ into the conversation; however, they did as part of the ensuing discussion. During the conversation, I allowed them to discuss how they felt without making any suggestions myself. I will state here that I have gone through some of these very traumatic incidents myself throughout my own life, but I have also been able to openly discuss them with people who actually were prepared to listen to my concerns without giving their advice. .
Challenges, difficulties and mental health concerns affect us all and do not discriminate based on age. For younger people, there can often be barriers to seeking support due to feelings of isolation, not feeling understood or the gravity of their concerns being dismissed, and not knowing where or how to seek support or who to speak to. Having a safe space to express worries, feelings and concerns can be beneficial in working through these difficulties and also increase connectedness and confidence and the ability to be heard freely without discrimination.
Those in police and emergency services roles—which includes police, paramedics, fire and rescue and state emergency personnel—are working on the front line to protect us and to ensure our safety. As such, they can be frequently exposed to highly stressful and traumatic situations. Each person will experience these situations differently, and how they respond will differ from person to person. For some, this may impact on their mental health and wellbeing. There was a period of time when we thought it was only Vietnam veterans who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, which I have spoken to previously in this house—not the younger ones coming through today.
Veterans and those currently serving, and their families, face unique experiences during their military career. Transitioning to civilian life is sometimes very hard and traumatic. Service and transition can impact many different parts of a person’s life: mental health, wellbeing, physical health, family relationships, social connection, sense of self-worth and belonging, employment prospects, finances and housing.
People who reside in regional areas often say, ‘I don’t know what to say, so I don’t say anything at all.’ But those of us living in these communities know each other quite well. We are in the best position to notice when the stress is getting too much. We just need to be ready to look out for each other, stay connected, ask if we are okay. If the answer is no, then do not take that for an answer. Just keep talking to these people to ensure they know that you are there to help them out.
Living in a rural community can be a life-enriching experience that many urbanites do not understand. Dealing with the impacts of the unpredictable and dramatic Australian weather and elements builds an amazing resilience in rural communities, but it often comes at a cost. We only have to look at the drought and the recent fires across all of regional South Australia and Kangaroo Island. This will have a great impact on the mental health, wellbeing and physical feelings of these people. Social and geographical isolation can cause disadvantages in accessing health and wellbeing services. When support services are needed they are sometimes too few and too far away. Quite often governments say there are plenty of funds, but sometimes there are no bums on seats.
That last comment is one of the reasons that I am undertaking to challenge the stigma of men’s mental health because too often the stigma is there and people do not want to take that extra step and say, ‘I have an issue. I have an anxiety issue. I have a mental health issue.’ So I am undertaking a challenge to challenge the stigma of men’s mental health. It will hopefully raise sufficient funds to establish a connect centre in Port Pirie to allow for counsellors to be located in the building and for personal, confidential face-to-face contact to be made by those who are suffering these feelings and anxieties, not via telecommunication.
In closing, I know that there are lots of issues across all of regional South Australia and all of Australia, but there are certain things that we as a society, and men in particular, do not talk about. There are lots of issues out there. If we talk about these things we feel we are a failure or not part of the macho image of Australian men. Also, the fact is there are a lot of people out there with these issues who try to get that message across. The visual and the personal contact will be there, but when people try to broach the subject, ‘I have an issue,’ a lot of people are too scared to listen to them. They are not too sure what to say, so they avoid them.
If any of us here see someone—friends, family, anyone—and know they have a problem and know their behaviour is a bit different, then persevere with them; look after them. Do not tell them that they need assistance. Get them to work through their issues. As I said, I have been through all these issues because I have had lots of personal tragedies throughout my life. I have been able to go through those tragedies—those challenges—with people around me. Those people have listened to what I fear, and I think everybody else has to be able to do this: talk freely with those friends, associates or family. Just be there and make certain we are all there to help each other out.
I commend this to the house. I am looking forward to my challenge for mental health, and will always continue to try to challenge the stigma attached to it. A lot of people out there think that if you have a mental health issue, you have an anxiety issue, that can lead to suicidal issues. We have to get rid of that stigma and encourage people to be open and transparent, and all of us have to help them out through their very difficult journey. I commend this motion to the house.