[ I am not a trained Counsellor nor a Mental Health Professional, and I give no professional advice in these difficult matters. These comments are the result of a profound sense of concern for what is happening in our communities.]
I am advised, by a very reliable source, that six men, on average, take their lives, in Australia, every day.
That is 42 men each seven days. Dead by their own hand.
That is two thousand one hundred and eighty-four men per year removed from our society because they could not find a reason to live with us – or they were overwhelmed by the despair of their circumstances.
These are average figures and are spread across a broad spectrum of our society – age groups, geography, life circumstances and birth circumstances and, it may be that these figures are higher than noted above, because almost certainly some deaths will be unreported as suicide due to the difficulty surrounding that word.
Either way, it is a profoundly disturbing figure and demands some public attention – the data applied to females is much less then males, and one can ask why? The answer is evident and straightforward.
Females talk about their difficulties and seek help-conversely men do not talk about their problems and do not seek help.
Why is this so?
There is no straightforward answer. If there was, we would have found it and almost certainly applied it.
Commonsense leads your thoughts to the biology of males. Somewhere in this complex mix of genes and chromosomes, there may be an identifiable signal faintly flickering away – sending the coded answers – but that signal, if it indeed exists, is very well disguised.
The circumstances of my birth caused me to spend my teenage years in semi-rural Australia in the 1950s, surrounded by a large, tempestuous, reasonably well-known, entrepreneurial family.
I reckon I was lucky. Australia, during those years, was a wonderfully innocent place in which a young man could grow into his shoes. I remember my young life being full of big, silent, tanned skinned men who wore their shirts open at least three buttons down. They worked with their hands and brains in the sun, on the land and in small blacksmith shops they built. They were not angels, they used alcohol, and they could be violent – but they were all pretty much veterans from World War II, and they cared for each other, they really did!
And, they were all over the place. In the Police, on the farms, in the shops and pubs, in the workshops, driving trucks, shoeing horses and in our homes. My arithmetic teacher in Grade Seven was a man who flew Lancaster Bombers over Europe, a dour, ruddy-faced Scotsman who, with one glance, could scare me rigid but, at the same time, would reach out touch me on the shoulder and tell me I was OK. I walked taller because of those gestures.
Public presentation of these men was that they were tough men who dealt with the worlds’ nonsense in their own way and in their own time. This impression, nonetheless, was a chimera – many of them were broken by the war, and they sought and found help within their world of mateship – the RSL. They looked out for each other; they would make phone calls on party lines during the evening; I know, I heard them, and I learnt that it was not weak or unmanly to seek help when the devils in your soul threaten to overwhelm you. It was a priceless lesson.
Later in my life, Vietnam and various pieces of Chinese metal and shrapnel invited into my life a dark rider on a pale horse. This horse walks alongside me at times, but I know what to do with him; I know how to kick him, and his red-eyed black dog mate back into the shadows from whence they came. I learnt how to do this from the men in the 1950’s: those supposedly tough, bronzed ANZACS.
For reasons that are very difficult to understand, the business of men looking out for each other and being able to speak out with confidence about matters which bother them has been lost in today’s world. Perhaps it is the lack of a shared collective experience? Maybe it is the lack of role models such as those available to me? Possibly the diminution of the influence of the Church in our societies? I don’t think there is one common factor, but it is apparent to me that mutual respect and shared experiences are positive forces for good in our community and it is as evident as a dunny in the desert that these are mostly missing from our national life.
The toxic presence of recreational drugs in our lives has much to do with the breakdown of the forces I mentioned above, along with the herd driven madness of the social media.
What to make of this?
I don’t suppose it is possible to remove the internet from our world and we don’t seem to be having too many big wins in driving drug pestilence from our doorsteps, but I reckon there are some things we could do that may start pushing the wheels in our direction.
The first thing to do is to accept that this a severe problem blighting our lives.
The second thing to do is to publicly discuss these matters and to encourage, through various forums, and there are plenty of them in our communities, open and frank discussion about how anxiety and depression creep into all our lives and it is not weak to seek help especially for men of all ages and life experiences.
It is not for me to make lists of actions to be taken. I wrote earlier that these words were motivated by a profound sense of concern about the suicide rate of men in Australia. In taking these words into a public forum such as this, I hope that we can, collectively, draw back the curtain and look into the face of the dragon. In doing so, we may see that it is not such a fearsome beast and that its fires cannot burn you.
If these words raise matters for you which are hard to deal with, then take the following actions…
Use a phone to call…
Police/Fire/Ambulance : 000.
Lifeline : 13 11 14
Blue Hope: 1300 00 2583