Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Even the vegans

I visited the Vegan Expo last Sunday, and I have to say I was a little disappointed. I had expected that a vegan expo would be a shining example of ethical living on all fronts. Yet, I managed to walk away eating a meal served on a styrofoam plate with a plastic fork, and clutching a vegan cookbook that isn't made from recycled paper, and having heard no mention of locally grown produce.

Maybe I am being completely unfair, but I just assumed that people who chose one sort of ethical lifestyle would also have chosen an ethical approach to other areas of their lives. But it doesn't always happen that way. I remember getting frustrated with the socialists who shared my opposition to war, but thought nothing of contributing to un-necessary logging by printing out thousands of flyers for their cause. There are also those who care passionately about the plight of people in developing countries, but don't worry too much about the carbon cost of flying all around the world in a bid to help. And don't get me started on those vegetarians who happily eat tofu without a care for the impact of soy bean cash crops on local farmers.

But I shouldn't be so harsh. As you can imagine, I have been on the receiving end of all the same criticisms. It's always the smug, meat-eating, petrol guzzling, new wardrobe every season types who question why I might call myself a vegetarian but wear leather shoes, or claim to care about the environment but fly across the world or care about the conditions of factory workers but still buy the occasional garment made in China. Surely doing something we believe in is better than doing nothing at all? So, rather than disappointed, I have decided I am comforted by the fact that even the vegans are not perfect - maybe there is hope for me yet.

Biggest killer

A recent campaign involving 2010 Australian of the year Patrick McGorry highlighted the fact that suicide is the number one killer of Australians under the age of 45. The figure is roughly double the number of people killed on the roads each year, and yet is rarely talked about in public. In the two years since my friend's death to suicide, I have been disappointed by the lack of concern about such a serious nation-wide problem.

I have heard people joke about suicide or dismiss it as selfish, immature or attention seeking. It's none of those things. Depression is a debilitating physical illness that puts people at an increased risk of death and it is not something that they can easily "just snap out of". Medications for depression have their own problems, including some which - and I find this utterly incredulous - increase the risk of suicide. I believe that if my friend had been given better medical care during that final week, his death could have been prevented. 

While doctors cite time constraints, limited numbers of beds, and lack of support as reasons for mental health patients slipping through the cracks, I wonder if lack of understanding  plays a part as well. I am concerned about the number of people who, having taken the brave step of seeking medical help, are not taken seriously enough, or are turned away too soon. Once they are discharged, families and partners don't seem to be given the information or support that would help them identify signs of distress or situations of increased risk. 

Thanks to government funded awareness campaigns we all know that speeding and drink driving increase the risk of fatal road accidents. We draw comfort from the fact that scientists are busy developing cures for cancer, the AIDS epidemic and even the everyday flu. Yet, previous campaigns around mental health have done little to raise awareness about the causes and treatment of suicide. 

So I was glad to hear that this recent campaign resulted in some Government funding being directed towards mental health. I hope it includes not just an increase in beds and further research into appropriate treatments, but a comprehensive mental health education program that better equips health professionals and friends and family to prevent future deaths.