09. Shattered Lives

The Tragedy and Legacy of Male Suicide in Rural and Remote Communities
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Men commit suicide at a rate four times that of women. Not only is the rate of male suicide higher in rural and remote communities, it is 50% higher again for male farmers. What is happening in these communities to produce such an ongoing tragedy and what can be done to stem the tide?

This program begins and ends with interviews recorded at the end of the Ski for Life event, five days in March 2013 along the River Murray, from Renmark to Murray Bridge. We hear of the stops along the way and of the stories told of communities coping with the loss of men – family members, neighbours, friends – through suicide. We also hear of one farmer’s “journey to hell and back”. Further details of Ski for Life will be found on the website of Men’s Health South Australia.

Dr John Ashfield
Mary Fisher
Jane Killock
Greg Killock
Bill Stockman
For details of all interviewees who contributed to this project, click here

Ski For Life - Arriving in Murray Bridge SA - March 2013.

Ski For Life – Arriving in Murray Bridge SA – March 2013.

Thinkabout Talkabout
Dr John Ashfield

First of all, we need to grasp the real gravity of the problem.

  • Suicide isn’t just a social concern, it is about the lonely and tragic death of much loved fathers, sons, husbands, brothers, uncles, grandfathers, and friends.
  • Suicide is a terrible waste of lives – lives that can often be saved if support is given in the right way and at the right time.
  • Suicide smashes families – which often never fully recover from its effects.
  • Suicide is mostly gender specific: male suicide accounts for the overwhelming majority of deaths by suicide. Completed suicides amongst men exceed those of women by approximately four to one in Australia and the U.S. and more than three to one in Britain and Europe overall.
  • In Australia (2008) of 1,710 deaths (78%) were male, with the highest rate being for males aged 40-44.
  • Two-thirds of men will die in their first attempt.
  • Suicide rates in rural and remote areas are significantly greater than in urban populations. This appears to be especially true among young men in remote regions.
  • South Australia has been particularly vulnerable, with a higher proportion of males who live outside major urban centres compared with the national average.
  • Of greatest concern is the farmer suicide rate, found to be 33.8 for men, 6.7 for women and 21.6 per 100,000 persons, much higher than the rural suicide rate for South Australia in 2001 (23.8 for men, 5.6 for women and 14.5 per 100,000 persons) according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
  • Suicide in Australia, exceeds the national road toll, yet attracts little comparable publicity. The majority of men at greatest risk of suicide are not successfully engaged by mental health services. Most suicide victims who see their GP prior to death (even on the day of their death) present solely with physical complaints.

What must we do to address this issue?

First we need to make government accountable for its indifference to the issue of male suicide. Mostly all we’ve seen are misconceived initiatives that are ad hoc, poorly targeted, and knee jerk reactive – aimed at managing and dispersing public concerns when they arise, but doing little of any worth to address the ongoing tragedy of suicide. It would appear that suicide prevention has little electoral value.

The majority of men at greatest risk of suicide are not successfully engaged by mental health services. It’s always been easy to brush aside issues of men’s health by simply blaming men for not using services. But that is quite dishonest. Because we now know from an abundance of evidence, that when practitioners and service providers offer services to men that are appropriate – and informed by an understanding of how to engage with men, men respond just as positively to using services as women do.

The Federal Government has recognised this in its new men’s health policy – it has outlined the need for health professionals and service agencies to be educated in better understanding and engaging with men.

Just as importantly, we need to put an emphasis on prevention – which again is something governments have done too little of.

We need to build a protective capacity in communities, by raising public awareness (such as is being done with depression and anxiety), providing training to key people in communities – training that can give people the knowledge and confidence to take care of each other – to be the eyes and ears that pick up on distress in others and know how to respond.

We also need to demystifying mental health knowledge. Much of what is currently thought to be only right for health professionals to know, should and could be made public knowledge.

We need to put preventative mental health and suicide prevention back in community hands where it belongs. Communities can make a real difference where successive government programs have not.

First broadcast – Monday 27 May 2013

Related Resources
Doing Psychotherapy with Men, Dr John Ashfield,Australian Institute of Male Health and Studies 2011
Matters for Men, Dr John Ashfield, Peacock Publications 2007
Taking Care of Yourself and Your Family, Dr John Ashfield, Peacock Publications 2007

Coaching Solutions for Men
Men’s Health South Australia
Australian Institute of Male Health and Studies
You Can Help
Men’s Health Australia
New Male Studies
Man Therapy
Australian Men’s Shed Association