In today’s Fairfax press the member for Wentworth, Malcolm Turnbull, uses the issue of suicide at the Gap to raise funds for Woollahra Council, or more correctly, attempts to shame the federal government into funding one of the council’s programs. This is one of the dangers of lifting the silence on the issue. In some quarters it is code for weaseling in to blackmail your political opponents or, in the case of the media, selling ads on the page. If this issue is to be brought back into the public arena for full discussion it ought to be handled with care. And simply placing the number of Lifeline at the foot of an article does not justify the harm done; it should not become a sop or a ticket out like the use of the word ‘alleged’ in court reporting. The reasons why reporting on the issue is not encouraged are not based solely on the concern that others might get ideas but rather to safeguard the issue from exploitation by those with a political or financial agenda, or a religious barrow to push, and to minimise any further harm to friends and family.
Here are a couple of comments on the piece from readers.
This one asks where was Malcolm Turnbull during the Maggot Years?
Suicide is a terrible thing, not just for the person that is involved but for all their family and friends. And I agree with Malcolm that we need to spend money to prevent suicide (in fact the $ cost of every suicide is substantial), but I dont like the way Malcolm has tried to subtlely use this as a political football.
If, as Malcolm has said, that there have been 50 lives lost there for decades, why did Malcom not work with the local Council while his party was in government? Surely they could have found the $2million while his governement was in power in 2007, before the GFC?
I think the current government should show more compassion than the previous government and spend the money.
And as Malcolm is so passionate about this, maybe he could find it in his heart to donate (anonamously) a small amount of his total wealth to help fund this, because remember, this is his electorate.
And maybe that way Malcolm could learn a lesson or two from Doanld Ritchie. Donald just quietly goes about helping others. He does not trumpted what he does, he seeks no reward or fanfare. He does not seek others to help where he is able to, rather he acts himself. People who are passionate “do things”, they do not “talk about what needs doing”.
And as this person points out, there are bleeding obvious causal factors at work here.
Isn’t it obvious why we have these escalating issues in regards to mental disorder and depression in this country? People are pressured mercilessly from an early age to compete and succeed of be relegated to a life of medicrity and every year this country raises the bar on base line standards. We promote a national ideal that massive HOUSE PRICES are GREAT and an entire lifetime of debt servitude is the accepted standard. We ENFORCE ECONOMIC SLAVERY as the status quo in our society and wonder why people just give up on life? We spend all this time sitting around asking WHY WHY WHY people do things like this, then we turn over the newspaper page to another crisis or economic disaster which will leave people destitute and think nothing of it. The problem isn’t these people. This isn’t just something you can sweep under the mat as a brain chemical imbalance issue and the way to ‘fix’ the problem is with therapy and drugs. We need to step back and look at what this country is becoming to realise that if you continue to beat down the common man and push them further into the confines of servitude for another, you are robbing people of their need to be free and happy with their lives. Australia has completely missed the point on why depression is so rampant in society, yet by the same token they continually put up their hands and wish to be counted as part of the machine every four years when the scum in Canberra who have the means to positively change the lives of each and every Australian, instead choose measures which seek to LOWER the standard of living for the majority to the benefit of a few.
Tragedy amid the beauty at The Gap
March 24, 2010 – 3:00AM
Lucy, my wife, and I often walk with our dogs along the cliffs leading down to The Gap at South Head. It is one of the most beautiful spots in the electorate of Wentworth.
I can remember my mother walking with me down at The Gap and telling me of of the 1857 wreck of the Dunbar, which missed the entry into Sydney Harbour in a storm, and instead was smashed on the rocks below The Gap.
Only one of the 122 passengers and crew survived, James Johnson. I would imagine him bravely clinging to the rocks, the only survivor of a terrible storm. An anchor from the ship remains as a memorial.
But what we didn’t talk about, and what Australians still don’t talk about enough, is that much of the tragedy amid the beauty of those cliffs is very current. Indeed it could be happening as you are reading this article.
For well over a century, the cliffs of South Head have been a preferred place for people to commit suicide. It has been estimated about 50 people end their lives at The Gap every year. They come from all over Australia. Some of them are well-known, such as the newsreader Charmaine Dragun, but all of them are tragedies.
Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians under the age of 44. In 2007, 1881 suicides were registered in Australia, with a further 65,000 attempts recorded. Men make up 75 per cent of the registered deaths. And these figures are likely to be understated.
Tragically, research shows that the taboo surrounding suicide prevents many individuals from reaching out to family or their community when their support is most needed. Yet many of us suffer the result of this silence. The personal and social costs of suicide are immediate and far-reaching, affecting families, friends, workplaces and the broader community. Suicide ends the lives of thousands but devastates the lives of tens of thousands directly affected.
The stigma of suicide is steadily lifting, due largely to the hard work and research of organisations such as beyondblue, Lifeline and the Black Dog Institute.
At The Gap, Woollahra Council – supported by the Black Dog Institute and Lifeline and by the brave advocacy of Dianne Gaddin, whose daughter ended her life there – is seeking to put in place a Gap Master Plan. This involves special fencing (which is hard to get over but easy to get back), landscaping and on-site upgrades, lighting, signs, CCTV cameras and emergency support telephones.
These measures will help in de-stigmatising the location, and will help ensure that those contemplating suicide at The Gap are deterred long enough for somebody to reach them, talk to them and change their mind. These techniques have been proven in other cities to materially reduce and deter suicide attempts. In short, they save lives.
Since late 2008, I have been been supporting Woollahra Council in the so far unsuccessful efforts to secure additional funding of just over $2 million from the federal government to ensure there is a thorough and comprehensive suicide prevention system at The Gap. The council has allocated $500,000 but much more needs to be done to complete the project and the council needs help. This is a life-saving project.
Local residents play an important role. The council hosted a very successful community workshop last year with the Black Dog Institute to raise awareness and build skills on managing depression and improving mental health. It was booked out.
One man, Donald Ritchie, who has lived opposite The Gap for nearly 50 years, has shown what can be done when you have the chance to intervene. He and his wife have talked many back from the brink, with a few kind words and the offer of a cup of tea. Honoured with an Order of Australia, Ritchie has talked more than 160 people out of taking their lives.
We have to lift the taboo about acknowledging suicide as a major, preventable health problem. The Senate Community Affairs Committee inquiry into suicide has done great work in raising awareness.
Would there be any hesitation in spending a few million dollars to address a road black spot that had been taking 50 lives a year for decades? I hope not.
The Gap is not just an eastern suburbs issue, it is the hottest suicide spot in Australia. The evidence is clear and the federal government must act to ensure that we do everything we can to ensure that those who look over those cliffs with thoughts of death are given every encouragement, every chance, to think again and come back from the brink, come back to live.
Malcolm Turnbull is the Liberal member for Wentworth. Lifeline: 131 114.