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Do we need to speak more openly about suicide?


MIKE POWELL took his life in May. He was 18, a recent high-school graduate and a trainee accountant at PriceWaterhouseCoopers. He caught the political bug and worked tirelessly on my campaign at the state election. He shone with all the brightness of a future star - compassionate, generous, smart and disciplined. He loved his family and friends and we loved him.

I made the decision - with the support of his parents - to talk about Mike's suicide in my maiden speech, to honour his memory. While there is much debate about how we talk about suicide - particularly in the media - there is little debate about whether we are better off talking about it or ignoring it.

Advertisement: Story continues below The NSW government spends $10 million a year advertising safe driving to reduce the road toll. Yet 50 per cent more Australians die by suicide than on our roads. It's time we spent the same on suicide awareness and prevention. The campaign should have two goals; to remove the stigma associated with suicide, and show Australians that they are not alone, that our communities will always provide support when needed.

Roy Morgan polling has found almost one in four Australians do not know of any services that provide support for people who are suicidal, yet almost two out of three Australians know someone who has died through suicide. It is the leading cause of death among people under 35. In too many communities, however, the conversation isn't so much alive, as has never been started.

After the ''pinkie'' road-safety campaign run by the RTA in NSW, 74 per cent of the population ''revealed strong recognition of the anti-speeding message, aimed at making speeding socially unacceptable and at undermining the perceived pay-off for speeding''.

Such campaigns are one of the reasons why deaths of young people on our roads, especially males, have fallen markedly since the late 1980s.

I do not pretend that advertising is the panacea to bringing down the suicide rate in young people. More needs to be done in the areas of prevention and treatment of mental illness. But a highly visible campaign will make it known that no matter what situation someone is in, there is a way out. It is time the taboo around mental illness was lifted.

Matt Kean is the state member for Hornsby.

Read the full Sydney Morning Herald Article Here.