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Reforming society the best way to minimise suicide

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A more caring, empathetic society will deliver better mental health outcomes (Image via Twitter).

Sadness, depression, trauma and suicide can be better dealt with if we look to its social and economic causes, writes Gerry Georgatos.

SUICIDE HAS ALWAYS been with us despite its once again rising tide. It is not a tragedy of days modern but one "of the ages".

Suicide has always been considered historically as a breaking of the human spirit, relief from seemingly endless despair, of the endless accumulation of stressors and worries. 

In other words, an escape from relentless hardship.

With the United States of America, the suicide rate has increased by 60 per cent since the turn of the century. With Australia similarly so, and in the last decade by 35 per cent. More children and youth than ever before in recorded times are lost to suicide.

During the 1800s and early 1900s suicide was likely as high as it is today with physical hardships and deprivations more acute than the present. In the early 1960s, an economic recession hit Australia, with a hit of high unemployment levels – and underemployment – the suicide rate was and remains the highest ever recorded.

But today there is a spread of suicide, depression and anxiety to young people, in the dawn and bloom of life – the likes not previously recorded.

Emotional trauma is to blame. Not just acute primary trauma of, for instance, child sexual abuse, but a constancy of traumatic experience. Some discreet traumas but mostly recurring daily emotional hardships in ages far too young with expectation settings punishable by failure, over the top parenting, and the diagnosing of everything imaginable.

This is ever so more particularly in so-called developed nations, the wealthiest nations, the big economy nations.

Education was once seen as a bastion of cognitive growth, shared understandings and agency but has degenerated to currency, a tool that must be appropriated and wielded. Childhoods are no longer, the freedom to be happy and community both vanquished. Children have their childhoods ripped away by composite attacks of parenting and schooling.

There is less happiness today than yesterday. There are more stresses today than yesterday. There is more sadness today than yesterday.

The widespread sadness, the difficulty to manage the rising stresses are misdiagnosed as depression, lumped with anxiety. Children are punished as poor performers and their self-esteem smashed.

Modern-day society is the single biggest cause of child and youth suicides.

Psychologists are now in most schools and institutions and like some "Brave New World" we look to make "machines" of children and nurture them to indenture lifelong, to cope with drudgery. Psychologists do the pep talks and psychiatrists deal with the fallout, dishing out depressants, sedation and anti-psychotics to those society have burned.

All we talk about today is identifying mental health conditions – we want national mental health programs and dredge society of its happiness and replace with localised mental health initiatives. We are spreading sickness like never before.

I spend my days validating trauma but disabling it. The mental health clinicians will argue otherwise but then they have had to invest and sacrifice thousands of days in learning what has been dished to them. They research from the lens of their narrow corridor of discourse. Psychologists, psychiatrists, academics are only as good as the books of the day.

I work with suicidal people with day in day out. I have assisted many, particularly the children and youth and thus far I have not lost anyone to suicide. Instead I have seen improved life circumstances, more happiness than before.

Suicide is the leading cause of unnatural deaths. I have responded to thousands of suicide-affected families. The youngest suicide I have responded to was of a nine-year-old. The youngest who've attempted suicides are six-year-olds.

Society responds to sadness and waning spirits with missionary fervour, as if still in missionary times, in that they’re must be something mentally and emotionally unwell – "clinical disorders" – and instead of spreading love, we spread hate of self. We ruthlessly exercise order and habituate a march to drudgery.

For those who can, there is passing relief in holidays and travels, time on country with nature and our birthrights come alive, but soon dissipated on drudgery’s return.

The working week is too long. It should be no more than four days with three-day weekends. Thirteen years of formative schooling is inappropriate, one of the most destructive sins of our times, sidelining childhoods and the wrecker of more lives than any good it arguably achieves.

School years should be at most five or six years but that’ll be seen as "lunacy". 

Our stretch on this earth is a brief one, at best 30,000 days and it matters that we live happily. Otherwise what is the point?

Children do not need mental health conditions to identify and determine them. Leave children alone.

If children feel overwhelmed at school or in the home, then that is the fault not of children but of schools and parents.

Society is deceived with vulnerabilities and hence breeds fear. The making of people as vulnerable is conducive to a society bent on rules. And more rules are the response. We must order our thinking, narrow the discourse, cognitively narrow ourselves. Everything is about "managing" ills, "managing" trauma, "managing" pressure and expectations.

There is little permissibility to disable trauma. Happiness is frowned upon. Liberation is a crime.

We need to dawn meanings of freedom, happiness, of unencumbered childhoods, of radical empathy, of love. Trauma is part of the daily human experience and it was never intended to create industries to exploit and compound.

There is a urgent need for early interventions to address acute aggressive traumas but where this is not the case, then leave people alone and instead guide and mentor instead of counsel and medicate unendingly.

Maybe humanity has done such a number on itself that there is no way forward in the foreseeable futures, but the discourses need to be challenged, however controversially. I can never remove from my mind the people I, and colleagues, have supported to better days, many who have done away with medications and the presumption that they’d need lifelong counselling.

We were there for them with salt-of-the-earth approaches, radical empathy, intense psychosocial supports where needed, spread the love, disabled trauma, shared experiences, got real.

There are "complex" mental health conditions but in my long experience the majority of people do not have "complex" mental health issues. The way we’re going we are assuming, and delivering, the majority of society as riddled sick, mentally unwell, and from the cradle.

Suicidality is increasing and more survivors than ever before have come out.

One royal commission after another may argue that the "health systems" are at fault or overwhelmed and that we need more acute health beds, supports, and more rightfully community care facilities and resourced home-based care systems. but no royal commission or inquiry has ever hit the mark and taken on society as a whole.

The latest argument is to increase the mental health care plan access under Medicare’s rebate scheme from 10 supported visits each year to 15. What about better understanding the causal narratives and pathways and better understanding disabling trauma.

We should be supporting the majority of people to that there is actually nothing wrong with them and resisting society and its drudgery and unhappiness is not a bad thing, but a good thing, it is our right.

Gerry Georgatos is a suicide prevention and poverty researcher. He is also the national coordinator of the National Suicide Prevention & Trauma Recovery Project.

Crisis support services can be reached 24 hours a day: Lifeline 13 11 14; Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467; Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800; MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78; Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636.

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