Wednesday, May 05, 2010

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.