A few weeks ago I was on a train. It stopped short of the station and sat idle for a while. A message from the female driver told us there'd been an incident at the level crossing and the emergency services had been called. She sounded a little shaken.
Another ten minutes passed before we were informed that we would have to leave the train with the assistance of ladders and firemen.
Forty minutes later I found myself walking on the shingle beside a towering train. As I approached the crossing I noticed a large piece of blue tarp had been erected, presumably to shield myself and others from the horror of what had occurred.
I immediately wondered if this had been an accident or a suicide. Apparently incidents of train related suicides are on the rise, this article from a couple of years ago suggests one a week on average. Two thirds of them are successful. I dread to imagine the consequences for those that survive.
Our local train network are now spending millions on making suicide hotspots more secure. They're also building a special bio train wash to deal with the grisly task of safely removing bits of victims from the undercarriage.
I've lost count of the amount of times I've stood at a train station and thought about jumping. These fantasies started when I was about six. However the thought of the incredible physical trauma that would be caused by such a large piece of metal rolling over my body has always stopped this from being a real possibility.
How much emotional pain would someone have to be in to execute such a terrible plan?
I know well the severity of emotional pain required to produce consistent and frequent thoughts of suicide. At times it's been so severe I've 'experimented' and researched different methods. But I've obviously not experienced the darkest void of hopelessness that leads to the termination of ones own existence.
Probably I've have enough support and connection to help me avoid such an outcome. Perhaps fate has played some part.
In the days following the incident I searched the media for some news. I wanted to offer the person my thoughts of empathy and respect. Particularly if it was a suicide. I found no mention of the incident which seemed odd. A few weeks prior to this two women were killed when their car was struck by a train at a different level crossing. A horrendous accident that received extensive coverage across multiple media formats.
I began to wonder if the media would make a conscious decision to not report a suicide?
I found an article by Tod Maffin that confirmed my suspicions. As a young journalist Tod was told the media don't report suicides. With the exception of the rich and famous.
Tod attributes this to a study that shows people with existing suicidal tendencies are at increased risk of suiciding when exposed to news reports about people who've taken their own lives.
This idea resonates with me. After watching the Professor Green documentary 'Suicide and Me' I began to fixate and fantasize about hanging myself in the back yard. The program was definitely a trigger for my own suicidal thoughts. In truth I don't have the same response to news reports. But I understand that articles about suicide could be a strong trigger for others.
In contrast this information from a suicide prevention worker who believes being exposed to stories about suicide has "actually encouraged some people to go get help,"
I'd say the argument for both sides of the debate is somewhat unconvincing.
The down side to not reporting suicide is the continued invisibility of this devastating affliction. In some quarters suicide remains a taboo, a godless act, a smudge on the community/family and occasionally an unlawful act.
It also remains an area of health that is grossly underfunded. Perhaps suicide needs to be in our collective consciousness before our governments will act? Maybe that's the reason we should report suicides. In Australia road safety funding is double that for suicide prevention. Yet deaths from suicide are twice the road toll. This disparity occurs across the world.
Where I live road deaths are reported in a way that encourages us to feel proud of the reductions. Over a recent public holiday weekend we had zero road deaths, everyone was patting themselves on the back. And rightly so, lots of money and hard work has gone into heightening our awareness and educating us on the dangers of driving. Why can't we do the same for suicide? I'd like to feel proud about a reduction in deaths from suicide, from living in a society that offers its most vulnerable citizens the services and support they need. Unfortunately this doesn't fit in with the capitalist concept of austerity. Likely the money available for road safety is underpinned by the billion dollar automotive industry.
One suicide that received extensive coverage recently was that of a ten year old aboriginal girl. The response to her tragic story was predominantly active. It brought the plight of victims and the reasons for their actions into sharp focus. Some Politicians called for a Royal Commission. They wanted to know how a child could feel so hopeless. How politicians have the gall to ask such a question is beyond my comprehension. Isn't it obvious?
Let's start with the systematic decimation of the indigenous culture by European settlers. Then move onto the governments cuts to indigenous social programs in 2014. $534 million over five years, including a $160 million cut to the indigenous health budget.
Access to mental health and community services isn't just an issue for indigenous people. Support is lacking across all areas of society.
At the centre of my suicidal thought process is a deep pain, a sense of hopelessness that one may only be able to appreciate through experience. Herein lies the problem. I have no understanding of what it would be like to have grown up in a stable family environment, where my physical and mental well being were a priority. A place where I felt safe enough to engage with and explore life's opportunities. I also grew up during a time of high unemployment, very high amongst the youth in London's working class communities.
Conversely how would somebody who experienced a healthier 'functioning' life understand the complex issues that impact those who've been abused? Peter Hutton makes a similar point in his ted x talk about education he questions how teachers can relate and help students that struggle with school when the majority of teachers are from the group that thrived under the very same system ? They have no 'lived' experience of the devastating impact of abuse, domestic violence, poverty etc etc. The same is true for politicians I'd wager. But when a child experiences trauma functioning, striving and achieving become secondary at best, or non existent. Life becomes about survival. Dealing with the anxiety and depression, self doubt or loathing, shame and isolation.
Of course practical aspects of life compound the sense of hopelessness. No job, no money and insufficient services are a recipe for increased risk. The statistics tell us that suicide in remote aboriginal communities is four times higher than it is in non aboriginal communities. Coincidence?
The black dog institute supports this rationale they state that volatility in suicide rates can be attributed to environmental factors, such as unemployment and economic adversity.
I am now more fortunate, I have a job and can afford to see my therapist once a month. Though it took me years to acquire the tools I needed to function in the workplace. So what happens to those those that can't afford the help they desperately need? Perhaps they take their own lives, use drugs to mask the pain, live in a world of perpetual self abuse and lack of self care. One that is mirrored to them by society.
We need more than telephone help lines and rhetoric from those that have no lived experience of the pain that causes suicide.
We need more money for more services. But that won't happen until our culture becomes enlightened enough to understand that our individual perspective on living is personal not inherent, we need more empathy. Maybe then we can drop the judgment and punishment and find a way to empathize with people whose lives are different to our own.
Maybe reporting suicide could help us move towards this?