Alternatives to suicide

Suicide is five times more prevalent than homicide

In any culture, however healthy, some suicides will still happen for reasons of individual mental or physical health. But over the past 50 years depression in the developed world has greatly increased.

When the incidence of suicide is high, then something is wrong in that society which needs remedy, because many others unknown, beyond the statistics, will also be attempting or contemplating suicide. The whole culture may carry an infection although only some will be sick from it.

The pressures that drive some young people to kill themselves drive others to different forms of escape - drugs,alcohol, dropping out, body mutilation, leaving home, freaking out, antisocial life-style and behaviour, depression and mental illness, or just irresponsible day-to-day 'mucking around' with minds shut to learning or exertion or what is happening in the world.


What can be done

  • Identify and change the social and cultural pressures, especially on young people, and teach everyone how to face those pressures.

  • Rather than spend millions on more jobs for the professional middle class in individual- focused prevention and treatment, spend also on tackling socioeconomic problems and pilotingsocial improvements to help to stem the widespread loss of hope. Putting all resources into individual therapy and counselling may pull a fortunate few out of the river of death, but does nothing about what is upriver pushing more of them in.

  • No school leaver should experience the humiliation of long-term unemployment that leads to unemployability or forced into humiliating or useless 'work'.

  • Offer life-styles with adventure and fulfilment without risking self-destruction, and ways to find happiness in affectionate relationships.

  • Action Research to pilot and evaluate measures to prevent suicide.

  • Change cultural influences that lead teenagers to despair so easily, and to be unable to face life. Their entertainment and role models should help them, not prevent them to face the future with hope, courage, enjoyment of life and ability to withstand frustration.

  • Tackle family malfunctioning through the media, how the welfare system operates, through working conditions for parents, measures that promote fathers' positive concern,pre-parental and parental education, through combating Ageism that divides generations, as strongly as racism and sexism.

  • Our community culture could encourage enjoying ourselves without having to be drunk, discourage macho glorification of drunkenness, respect the preciousness of the fully conscious human brain, and promote alternatives to alcohol and drugs for consolation and resolving problems.

  • The commercial sponsors and producers of entertainment, and the intelligentsia which produces concepts and educational principles should take responsibility for the visions that Australians live by. If they cannot do this, who can?

  • More reliable information for teenagers on adolescent psychology. (qv) They can be given many models of heroism, living and from our heritage so that they can learnthat there can always be heroism and greatness of the human spirit in facing the tragedies and disasters of the world.

    Adolescents are idealistic in most cultures but teenagers are told what they ought to be and they generally obey their elders about this, if nothing else Their elders should stop telling them they are a 'Lost generation' 'justified in anger and hopelessness'. Youth could face their hard depicted future better with encouragement and hope that they could act to improve their society.

  • Professionals must take responsibility for training people to be able to care for themselves and for each other in the emergencies of life - a preventive role, not just ambulance. Beforethey are in distress, young people need education in these strategies, courses, resources, the possibilities of snatching success out of failure, and life as an adventure, and how beautiful theworld can be. They can be prepared to avoid 'learned helplessness' and grief over minor problems.

  • Schools English courses can give a balance to the encouragement of despair and hopelessness in adolescents, and avoid the desire to make their fiction reading unpleasant and'brutally realistic', insisting they must not be shielded from the unsanitised 'realities of life'.

  • Happy teenagers have always tended to revel in a bit of morbidity and theatrical despair - but today it is being pushed out of balance.

    English syllabuses, school libraries and judges of awards for teenage fiction have roles to provide more balance to the 'harsh reality' fiction in which all human characters are despicable and no hope is possible. To say that 'it does not matter what a teenager reads as long as they are reading'. is like saying it does not matter what junk or poison they eat as long as they are eating'. Tastes are formed in youth by discovering books.

  • Responsible adults should know what is taught by young people's commercially promoted popular music, especially rap/gangsta rap and heavy metal , to keep adolescent culture away from the influence of family and other adults. These media have responsibility to promote better talent and entertainment so that young people can feel 'with it' in more joyful adventures.

    Games and drama can include alternative ways to solve problems rather than violence, and all entertainment with violent death should also show the short and longterm consequences of violence -of injury as well as death. Taxation of screen violence would help to improve the situation - or raise a great deal of revenue.

  • Clearer goals of what is real mature adulthood and real masculinity, and clearer social acceptance of the responsibilities and rights of adolescence. We are singularly muddled in our messages for our youth, and could clear up the transition, eg with rites of passage to adulthood.

  • hildrearing that ensures that every child during its first three years experiences being loved and never being betrayed. Then the foundation of its experience is of being worth loving, and having a model of how to love.
  • Ageism must be fought because it segregates teenagers from familiar and loyal elders who in the past were respected mentors, helpers and wise friends . In the past, as adolescents grew into independents, they were not expected to be cut off from family relationships in the way they are now. They lived in a community that was not age-segregated as it is now. Change is possible.

The problems that pressure young people towards suicide

The youth most at risk to suicide in Australia today are likely to be:

  1. Male, in rural areas with high unemployment
  2. Young people under the influence of alcohol or mind-numbing drugs who commit suicide impulsively

Many young Australians who do not commit suicide are also despondent about any hopes for the future, for themselves, or for their country.

'The only way out'. The manager of Lifeline has observed how often people intending suicide see that as the 'only way' out. They have collapsed their options into a single course of action.. They are taught to escape from problems, not how to face them, and the ultimate escape is suicide. They are confronted too much with death 'realistic and explicit' - but not about what it actually means, in real suffering and in consequences

Computer games, horror films, videos and TV news reinforce a picture of the world that is grim and desperate and give many adolescents immature understandings of death.

It is difficult to grow up as a 'Mature Adult' in Australia today, because the definition of Mature Adult is made by entertainment classifications. Teenagers can remain childish too long. Suicide threats can be manipulative and blackmailing, and carrying out the threats can be through childish petulance and selfishness in not caring or thinking about how they are 'making murderers of their friends'. They forget- or wish to hurt - the people who must live after their death '

An unexpectedly high proportion of Australian youth suicides are teenagers with excellent prospects, many friends, high achievements, loving families and no indications of mental disturbance. It is this group above all that indicates that factors in our whole society need remediation. They feel these problems so intensely because they are among the most intelligent and sensitive of our youth.

Psychiatrists often recognise that their function is too often to be 'somewhere that can be a last resort', where people can be sent when it is too late to do anything else about their troubles. Our culture prefers to spend on ambulances rather than fences.

Frustrations may turn out not to be fences, but gateways to something better.


For parents.

Martin Seligman. The Optimistic Child: a Revolutionary Approach to Raising Resilient Children ISBN 0091831199