Zero idea on suicide

When you edit a newspaper in the time since this government took office, one thing you come to learn by heart is the suicide support number. It has been there on so many stories in the past six years, especially on offshore detention, that it plays almost like a jingle in a television commercial.

The number is there because the reporting of suicide is causative. It is recognition of the external factors that can lead a person to take their own life.

It is hard not to think of this as Scott Morrison releases a video announcing his “towards-zero goal” on suicide. Morrison walks along the beach, pressing the issue with his thumb and forefinger. “This is a big job,” he says, “a curse on our country, but I’m sure working together we can break it.”

The video has been played almost 200,000 times. It runs for a minute and discusses suicide by children and people in remote communities. There is no support number. In the slide where it should be, there is an advertising disclosure: “Authorised by S. Morrison, Liberal Party, Canberra.”

Hypocrisy is claiming a plan to end suicide while scores of people self-harm in offshore detention. It is doing so while you ignore advice that says your own policies have caused this harm – that the men on Manus Island have one of the highest rates of mental illness in the world, and that most of these men were asymptomatic when they arrived.

Hypocrisy is pretending you have a target of zero suicides while your government defunds programs to help queer youth and mocks the reality of gender nonconforming children.

It is continuing with a program such as robo-debt, when the falsified recoveries target vulnerable people. It is refusing to raise Newstart, leaving a welfare payment to become a form of punishment.

Hypocrisy is funding programs proved not to work. It is focusing on awareness rather than treatment. It is defunding front-line services and ignoring areas such as homelessness and crisis support.

Hypocrisy is leading a government defined by its callousness and indifference, and pretending that in spite of this you care.

When Morrison talks about suicide, he doesn’t talk about the disproportionate levels of self-harm among trans and queer young people. He doesn’t talk about refugees. He doesn’t talk about poverty. He talks about the group that most resembles him: middle-aged men, living in the suburbs.

The appointment of a national suicide prevention adviser is a welcome one. She has been asked to advise on a whole-of-government approach. But how can one person with no official power change every cruelty enacted by this government? How can she end suicide when the prime minister won’t honestly acknowledge his contribution to it?

Suicide is not a curse. It is an illness. Morrison should not be focused on breaking it; he should be focused on not breaking people. 


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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on July 27, 2019 as "Zero idea on suicide".

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