Communities urged to talk about mental illness

Community crisis: Lifeline Central West executive director Alex Ferguson said if people living in rural and regional communities don't talk about mental health or other issues it will ultimately destroy us. Photo: STEVE GOSCH
Community crisis: Lifeline Central West executive director Alex Ferguson said if people living in rural and regional communities don't talk about mental health or other issues it will ultimately destroy us. Photo: STEVE GOSCH

Rural and regional people self harm three times more than people living in the city, says  Lifeline Central West executive director Alex Ferguson.

Mr Ferguson described these statistics as “sobering” and said that if broader conversations are not had about depression, anxiety, suicide or other mental health issues, then it will ultimately destroy communities.

In 2015 there were 3027 deaths nationally by suicide according to Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Causes of Death, 2015, which equates to eight deaths by suicide each day in Australia.

According to the ABS, Causes of Deaths, 2015, suicide was the leading cause of death among all people 15-44 years of age, and the second leading cause of death among those 45-54 years of age.

The median age at death for suicide was 44.5 years. This compares to a median age of 81.9 years for all deaths. 

Mr Ferguson said it is not yet known what the national suicide figure is in 2017.

But, with no evidence to say suicide has decreased and with the national suicide trend increasing per year, he believes this year will be larger figure than two years ago.

“We anecdotally believe the longer term trend line showing 200-250 per trend national trend increase. There’s been no evidence that it has tapered off,” he said.

“Are we likely to see ABS figures (for suicide) above 3027?

“I believe yes we’ll see a larger figure.”

“Statistically rural/regional people have historically been self harming at a greater rate then city people 3.5 times greater. Its sobering stuff.”

Mr Ferguson said Indigenous people are more likely to take their own life than non-Indigenous people and that 80 per cent of rural and regional suicides are male.

He said people need to have broad conversations that involve everyone within the community.

“Because as a society we can’t have this level of self harm and aggression (domestic violence) festering away in the community,” he said.

“If it does it will ultimately destroy us.”

​Mr Ferguson said the cause of someone taking their own life can be singular or a whole bunch of other issues including domestic violence, mental health, drug and alcohol and relationship break downs.

As a society we can’t have this level of self harm and aggression festering away in the community. If it does it will ultimately destroy us.”

Alex Ferguson, Lifeline Central West executive director

“You can’t just say ‘it’s this’. Because it’s not necessary just this. It’s more likely to be ‘this, that, or the other’ coming together for the end game, which is someone passing,” he said.

He said for people living in rural and regional areas there are a lot of issues which also lead to mental health issues, including distance and isolation.

“If you go back to the 1950’s to 70’s where there was a 2,000 acre farm that occupied two families, who each had young children and the adults would each day go to the saleyards or gold club… go now to 2017 and that sized farm only has one occupant, a lot of machinery and their partner usually has a job off-farm.”

“The bush is more isolated than it was at the turn of the last century… people are spending too much time by themselves.

Mr Ferguson said as a community we have to talk about mental health and suicide.

“We cant just sweep it under the rug, because historically suicide has been swept under the rug,” he said.

“We’re going to have to become better within the community to talk about a lot of things.”

Mr Ferguson said if people don’t feel like they can talk to anyone then they need to pick up the phone and call someone, like Lifeline, who are completely removed from the situation.

“Or have a conversation with someone you trust,” he said.

Me Ferguson said in a society where we are so technologically connected with social media, a majority  (60 per cent) of the national calls to Lifeline were because people were feeling lonely

“A large amount 60 per cent of national calls to Lifeline are because of loneliness,” he said.

Mr Ferguson said while it is a very sensitive issue, it is also a very real issue.

“This topic doesn’t lend itself to be flippant… we’re dealing with peoples lives.. go to your local medico, go and have a chat with Mum…”

He said 1 in 5 people will suffer a mental illness in their life.

“That’s 20 per cent of the community.. not one, two, or three. It’s a lot.

“It’s not a one in 50 people issue, but one in five.. if there’s 15 people player on a footy field, then statistically three people are running around on the field with a (mental health) problem.” 

Mr Ferguson said while you can’t look out for everyone 24/7, you have to tell someone if you are feeling down.