Let's speak up to stop the silent killer

Sir John Kirwan
Let's speak up to stop the silent killer

We need to start talking about it. It might make you feel awkward, annoyed or even angry but it’s a conversation we need to start having publicly. Suicide.

It has become one of those taboo subjects that everyone is scared to talk about whether in the media, among friends or around the dinner table. At the moment suicide is a silent killer and the latest statistics from the Chief Coroner’s office show 10 people a week are intentionally killing themselves and he described our suicide rate as ‘stubbornly consistent’ since records begun in 2007.

Suicide is a long term solution to a short term problem.  And one thing that helps people with problems is being able to talk about them. Share them. Openly and without fear of discrimination or blow back. But as a country and a culture, we’re not creating an environment for that to happen around suicide.

We know our youth suicide rate is among the highest in the OECD, that more employed than unemployed are ending their lives and that males in the 45 year old-60 year old demographic also feature prominently.

What might surprise you is that rural New Zealanders are over 40 percent more likely to commit suicide than those in urban areas. In addition, male suicide rates have been around 67 percent higher in rural areas compared to men living in urban centres.

Recently I visited a beautiful lush farm and as a city boy standing on the hill looking at the acres of pasture it was a truly beautiful sight, and made me feel so relaxed and calm. When I mentioned that to the farmer he simply said ‘all I see is stress.’ 

When we think about farming we picture the open countryside and a great outdoor lifestyle but in reality it’s an isolated, tough place to be. Your nearest neighbour can be several kilometres away. The price of land is not cheap, mortgages are huge and income can be erratic and seasonal. Add to that the uncertainty of things out of their control like the weather and market forces.

Our farmers are generally a pretty stoic lot. Hard working, well meaning but often introverted and along with the physical isolation that many operate in reaching out and asking for help is not easy. Many of them see depression as a failure or weakness, rather than what it is, an illness.

Since launching our rural section at www.depression.org.nz/rural less than two months ago, more than 20,000 people have visited the site. With the support of organisations like Federated Farmers we are hoping to help those suffering from depression that might lead to a suicide if left to their own devices. On the site, some farmers have been brave enough to share their stories of depression and where it was taking them. I applaud them for doing so and encourage others to follow suit.

A problem shared is a problem halved, and I think when people see a successful farmer talking about depression as an illness not a failure, then it makes it alright and we might start being able to tackle those terrible rural suicide rates.

Depression has many faces across the different sectors of society, but the symptoms and basic rules are the same. You’ve got to identify that it’s happening, realise the stresses and the pressures, accept them and then reach out and get help. If you’re having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of doom and gloom, talk about it. Share it - because you will get through it.

I’ll say it again; suicide is a long term solution to a short term problem. It’s not the answer and it leaves a lot of devastation in its path. One way to drive change is create an environment where it’s okay to talk about what you’re feeling, why and where it’s driving you.

To achieve that there is a collective responsibility on all of us to make it okay for someone to talk about it, to change this taboo that has held us back for too long. That doesn’t just mean the person feeling blue or suicidal needs to have the courage to speak up, it’s also up to those around him or her to have the pluck to ask if everything’s okay. If the weather’s created havoc or you know something’s made life tough on the farm ask the question, pick up the phone, “it must have been tough lately. How are you holding up?”

Let’s take the step, create change. Let’s start talking about it.

, , , , , ,