Awareness not enough during Mental Health Week, Jodie O'Sullivan writes

Mental illness is a lonely business.

It carries a stigma that silences even the bravest among us.

When a person takes their own life, the silence is resounding.

It stealthily pervades the lives of the family, friends, work colleagues and community members struggling to come to terms with an unnecessary death.

As Mental Health Week draws to a close, the question must be asked, why are we still suffering in silence?

Why is suicide claiming the lives of more Australians – at a rate nearly three times the nation’s road toll?

Renowned youth mental health advocate and former Australian of the Year Patrick McGorry says this year Mental Health Week is “in the shadow of the latest shocking suicide statistics”.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed deaths from suicide increased 5.4 per cent since 2014 and was over the 3000 mark. That’s eight Australians a day.

Yet mental health is “marooned at around 7 per cent of the health budget”, Professor McGorry wrote this week.

“Way too low.”

Professor McGorry claims awareness has become a “distraction and a substitute for action”.

His comments are echoed by those at the coal-face.

Take Dale Skinner, a community presenter for the Black Dog Institute who has bipolar disorder.

The Wodonga man spent nearly 10 years riding the roller-coaster of an illness that was not correctly diagnosed until he was 28.

He struggled to hold down jobs, suffered a marriage breakdown and was suicidal.

But Mr Skinner is one of the lucky ones.

That’s why he is a passionate advocate for “normalising” the conversation around mental illness and suicide in our community.

He believes every person in the community can stand as a sentinel in the fight against suicide.

This community has proven what can happen when talk turns to action.

Four years ago a courageous grassroots campaign secured a headspace centre for Albury-Wodonga.

The hopes and pleas of this community were carried on the wings of 4000 paper butterflies to Parliament House as part of the Border Mail’s Ending the Suicide Silence campaign.

Applauded by Professor McGorry as a shining example of the power of the people to enact change, headspace today transforms the lives of many young people in the region. But it’s not enough.

Professor McGorry says “headspace is only the entrance foyer and front room of what needs to be a whole house”.

And that means there are still too many people missing out on the care they desperately need.

People you know, people I know; people sitting silently next to you at work, at school, at a party or across the dinner table.

Suicide doesn't discriminate. That means we all have a responsibility to be more knowledgeable and more empowered to look out for each other, to start the awkward conversation and to act to safeguard lives that are being needlessly lost.

As individuals, sporting clubs, workplaces, family members and friends, we need to be the wings of help and hope to those who feel they can no longer fly.

  • Need help? Call Lifeline on 131 114 or beyondblue on 1300 224 636.
SAFE SPACE: The Border community's butterfly campaign four years ago secured a headspace centre to help safeguard the mental health of the region's young people.

SAFE SPACE: The Border community's butterfly campaign four years ago secured a headspace centre to help safeguard the mental health of the region's young people.