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The vast tragedy at the core of Australia’s suicide rates 

If the government is really 'working towards a zero suicide goal', the whole system must change.

(Image: Getty)

Suicide is oblique. If you have ever stood on the active side of suicidal ideation or action, then you understand this statement as truth. For those who haven’t — those peeking over the oblique fence — then you cannot accept it as truth. For some, it is too distressing. For others, it’s simply too confusing. Murky. Opaque. Oblique.

Scott Morrison recently announced that his government is “working towards a zero suicide goal”. He said that access to mental health services is “a priority” for his government. He appointed National Mental Health Commission CEO Christine Morgan as the new “National Suicide Prevention Adviser” and, in a video posted on his Twitter account, Morrison called suicide “a curse on our country”.

If suicide is a “curse” on Australia then our government is comprised of a circle of necromancers whispering arcana from a skull-shaped tome. 

The government and its PR cronies can’t wade into this community’s swamp and expect hollow corporate catchphrases to do anything but sink, unless they acknowledge the tragedy at the core of Australia’s suicide rates: that the government is, in large part, responsible. There is blood on their hands.

For those of us who have been surviving on the other side of the fence for some time now, this is a fact we’ve long wished the government would acknowledge. For them not to, and for them to say things like suicide is “a curse on our country”, is to make us feel like the scourge — that we have sole agency in this crisis. 

To understand the failure of the government when it comes to suicide you first have to understand the DIY communities that exist as a response to their ineptitude. I used to run a small Facebook group called “Lavender Town Blues” where a little cadre of vulnerable people could post if they felt in need of help or, more simply, basic empathy. Group chats, meme pages, heck even D&D parties: the community has created a cornucopia of little worlds to help us navigate the minefield laid out by our minds, experiences, and (worse yet) our society and government.

We arrived at these spaces through trial, error, and exhaustion — and we’re not the only ones.

I have been navigating mental healthcare in this country for almost 20 years and I can say, with the crippling dependency of a chronic gambler, that it is absolute trash. I compare my experience to that of a gambler because mental healthcare in Australia is like playing the pokies: you never know what you’re going to get, but you’re probably going to lose money.

The path to, and implementation of, healthcare in this country is so inconsistent and influenced by random variables that any “how to get help” guide is about as useful as a map to the inland sea. Being, by now, an old hand at all this, I have found myself playing a guide to people new to the system again and again. I have a list of GPs that I know take mental health requests seriously, and likewise a list of GPs and psychs that do not. 

I recently helped a friend go through the proper channels to get anti-depressants only to have her told that she should just marry and settle down in the suburbs. She lost faith in the system immediately, and has stopped trying to get help. It takes so much energy to approach the system, let alone go through with it, and more often than not you are kicked in the shins at the finish line. Then what?

For many, seeking help is a financial impossibility. I am incredibly privileged: my parents are not rich, but without their financial and emotional support, I would be dead. I could not afford my medication, therapy, or most costly of all, proper diagnosis. Other people are not so lucky, and those are the friends and strangers that I see constantly slipping between the cracks. 

And if there’s anything that pulls a survivor back to the precipice of those cracks, it’s getting down on your hands and knees to try and pull another loved one out. 

To reach his “zero suicide” goal, Morrison is going to have to implement reforms that run counter to the fundamentals of his politics. He won’t just have to repeal robo-debt, he’ll have to refund it. He’ll have to raise Newstart and beg forgiveness. He’ll have to overhaul our healthcare system, and all but get rid of private health to make access to therapy, psychiatry, and medication affordable. He’ll have to act on the existential horror that is climate change. He’ll have to resettle our refugees. He’ll have to end the housing crisis. He’ll have to achieve justice for Indigenous Australians. He’ll have to reshape the culture that has shaped Australia’s identity for the past 200 years. And then some.

These are the big things he’ll have to do if he wants to brashly bandy around a term as vague in scope and implementation as “a zero suicide goal”. But just how sincere is Scott Morrison in regards to this matter, truly? Because from my side of the fence, it’s hard to tell. 

For anyone seeking help, Lifeline is on 13 11 14 and Beyond Blue is 1300 22 4636.

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