Please note - Some may find the content in this article distressting or triggering. For support or information call: Lifeline 13 11 14, Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467, Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800, MensLine 1300 78 99 78.
Something undoubtedly tragic and devastating happened in our home town this past week. And despite the tragedy that unfolded, I was really saddened by some of the ways in which some parts of the community – a community that I am a part of – responded to this.
From what I have gathered from news reports, events unfolded as such - Gun shots were heard by neighbours. Police were called. Neighbouring houses and the school were evacuated. It was identified that a person with a gun was inside a house and had intent to harm himself. Emergency service personnel were called in to help. The road remained closed and the neighbouring houses and school were kept empty. Unfortunately the incident ended with the man passing away.
Devastating and tragic. I send my heart out to the family, friends and loved ones of this man. I send my sincerest thoughts and condolences to all the police and emergency services who I am sure did all they could at the time in this situation.
And there were two things that really upset me in how we – as the community - responded to all of this.
Firstly, following a week of Hope Street Cards waxing lyrical about the improvements of suicide reporting in the media and utilsing diverse images to portray mental illness, the reporting on this incident was pretty horrendous. Despite being informed that this was a “self harm” incident, the local rag continued to refer to this as a “siege”. Which I believe means –
the act or process of surrounding and attacking a fortified place in such a way as to isolate it from help and supplies, for the purpose of lessening the resistance of the defenders and thereby making capture possible.
I am fully aware that guns are really dangerous. But there was a lot of police and emergency personnel on the scene. And they weren’t “attacking”. They were “negotiating”. Rightly so too.
My main problem with the use of this word to describe what was going on, is that this only perpetuates the myth that people with a mental illness are violent. Siege is a very strong and very violent word. And for a long time, societal beliefs have held that mental illness and violence go together. But they really don’t. Having a mental illness does not mean someone will be violent. People receiving effective treatment for a mental illness are no more violent or dangerous than anyone else. It is much more likely that someone with a mental illness will hurt themselves, or be hurt by someone else. The media plays a big part in the way we think about mental illness. However, news and entertainment media often make the link between mental illness and violence seem much stronger than it is. There is a weak link between mental illness and violence, but many wrongly believe all people with mental illness are violent. And the reporting of this event, purely through their choice of one word, will only keep this myth going.
Secondly and most significantly, I was so very devastated to read and hear the thoughts, opinions and beliefs that some of my community members had about this event. I’m not going to repeat such comments.
I realise that for people who have never contemplated suicide, a drive against something as basic as the human survival instinct is incomprehensible. But, try and sit with this for a moment. The only thing our brain and body wants us to keep doing is surviving. All of our functions are trying to do this all the time. For someone to feel the only option is to override our one main need, the pain must be impenetrable.
And what sort of things did a lot of people on social media and in the street have to give this man who was most certainly experiencing inexplicable pain? I can tell you it wasn’t compassion, support and love. This man was a son, brother, father, partner, friend, colleague, community member. And now he, and all that he had to offer us and others is gone.
Lismore – your community is really struggling at present. The suicide rate on the North Coast is 24.9 per 100 000, with Lismore being considered a ‘hotspot’ by the Black Dog Institute. This is well above the state average, which is also way too high (8.9 per 100 000).
There are people whose need to die will overcome any treatment and prevention input. But the majority of people who attempt suicide don’t go on to die by suicide. Things can stop them. And these things can be talking to friends and family, getting professional help and feeling supported by others around them to see that their lives are still willing.
The thing is, suicide can be prevented much easier if widespread community efforts occur early. Well before it gets to the point where someone feels so alone and in such pain that ending one’s life becomes the only option. Currently suicide takes twice as many lives as traffic accidents, but road safety gets twice as much funding as suicide prevention. Lifeline is calling on the Federal Government to double funding to programs and you can sign it here.
But there’s so much each of us can do at home. Every day. Perhaps it might be time to stop buying into the myths surrounding suicide Lismore? Maybe it's time to stop pretending there is nothing we can do and nothing we should do for the people around us crying out for help? At the very least, it must be time as a community to really try and treat our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, friends and family, neighbours and community members with a bit more compassion, support and love. Because we really never know what internal battles they might be fighting.
CRISIS SUPPORT 24/7
Lifeline: 13 11 14 www.lifeline.org.au
Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467 www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au
beyondblue: 1300 22 4636 www.beyondblue.org.au
MensLine Australia: 1300 78 99 78 www.mensline.org.au
Youth Support Services
Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800 (24/7 crisis support) www.kidshelp.com.au
headspace: 1800 650 890 www.headspace.org.au