Youth Suicide: more than attention seekers
By Courtney Cavanough
It is often said that young people are the future of our country. If you Google teenagers, adolescents, youth or anything else about the “young” people of Australia, and the world, there are pages of news articles, research papers and opinion pieces about what we are doing, what we are not doing, and what we should be doing. What is almost never said is the pressures we face, the silent challenges we struggle to overcome, and that suicide is the leading cause of death for young Australians between the ages of 15 and 24. Youth suicide in Australia has become an epidemic. Our government has spent too much money on research and not enough on prevention. And as the numbers rise, we must look as to why this is occurring and how to solve it.
According to the Black Dog Institute, young Australians are more likely to take their own life than to die from motor vehicle accidents. Factors that contribute to suicide include mental illness and poor living circumstances. For our suicide crisis to be solved these factors must not only be combatted, but the cultural and social issues Australia has must also be addressed.
Mental health is a major factor in people’s lives and Australian youth have the highest prevalence of mental illness than any other age group. Mental illnesses can come in many forms from depression to anxiety. As teenagers, so many of our concerns and feelings get dismissed or just considered a pain, that when the adults realise that something was going on inside our minds it is often too late.
Data from the 2014 Mission Australia’s Youth Survey showed that around one in five (21.2%) of young people (15-19 years old) met the criteria for a probable serious mental illness. These statistics show us the urgent need for a much better nationwide program to be implemented in ALL schools to deal with mental health from the very early stages of primary school. A single health lesson that talks about depression is not enough anymore.
Woke talked to Gerry Georgatos, suicide prevention researcher and national coordinator, National Suicide Prevention & Trauma Recovery Project to find out his opinion on what schools need to do: “Schools can include wellbeing in their curricula and discuss for instance suicidality and its intersections and the ways forward.” He suggested that teachers and the education system need to understand what suicide is and be able to respond to those in need by being both the listener and the advisor. He reinforced that young people need to be taught to “understand trauma, which is part of the human narrative, and the ability to contextualise trauma, to disable trauma should be a skill incumbent, availed to everyone, from an early age, from secondary schooling.”
Australia needs to talk about poverty. We like to pretend that the ugly part of our society doesn’t exist, and we avoid talking about the hard topics. But it needs to be addressed. Socio-economic disadvantage is a key factor that leaves young people vulnerable to suicidal thoughts and attempts. The millions of dollars the government spends on research instead of prevention, all tell the same narrative - impoverished Australians, Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander children living below the poverty line are twenty times more likely to attempt suicide.
Woke asked Gerry Georgatos, what the government needs to do to lower the suicide rates particularly in poor communities: “Governments need to invest in addressing socioeconomic disadvantage, in providing quality infrastructure, in investing in affirmative actions to lift people from inter-generational poverty to educational and employment opportunities and to other meaningful activities, and invest in in-person services, outreach services that are 24/7. Decade by decade our suicide rates have been increasing, two thirds of these suicides have been by individuals who lived in poverty.
These individuals are more often than not of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds. With Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth compromising 30% of the total youth suicide rates, and out of these thirty percent, nearly all of them living below the national poverty line. This goes to show that it is not enough to just install mental health outreach programs. Living conditions need to be improved. That is the only way forward. Facing our bloody history is crucial. Poverty in Australia discriminates. Suicide in Australia discriminates, and with these two so closely intertwined we must solve Australia’s poverty and racist problem to stop youth suicide.
It is easy to talk about what we are doing wrong, and how we could do it better. It is easy to place the blame on everyone except the failure of the government to act. However, as Gerry Georgatos said: “we can, for the first time this century, reduce the toll and in so doing inspire the nation. We can reduce the Australian youth suicide toll. We know the elevated risk groups; population and categorical. We know the ways forward.”
What is hard is the real question: how do we stop what is the future of this country from killing themselves?
If you are in an emergency situation or need immediate assistance, contact mental health services or emergency services on 000. Lifeline 13 11 14
Kids Helpline 1800 551 800
Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467
*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Woke magazine.