This week, Mental Health Week, should be a time of healing and compassion, or at least awareness.
But, as we find every year, the week actually doesn’t do a whole lot more than bring up the crippling issues that plague many Australians throughout the rest of the year.
And that’s why it has to continue to exist. Not just exist, but be pushed to the front; to be our priority.
This week, a relative of Elijah Doughty – the 14-year-old killed in Kalgoorlie in August, which sparked a constantly-discussed social and political rift in the remote mining town – killed themselves on the spot of the boy’s death.
Of course, the full reasoning behind this tragic, shocking event – so soon after the tragedy of Elijah’s own death – will never be known.
But the issues Mental Health Week aims to address – especially the incredibly numbing isolation that inevitably comes with having a mental health issue, and not understanding you’re not alone – were certainly a factor.
And while none of us can put ourselves in the shoes of Elijah’s family, I think we can all understand the feeling of immense hopelessness which comes from losing someone so young.
The death of Elijah, and the resulting controversy, has become a flashpoint for debates on race, and how we handle inequality as a country.
Sadly, the facts often get lost in the emotion, but they are worth repeating: Aboriginal suicide rates are now approaching 10 times the national average, according to some statistics.
There are also more numbers that shed more light on just how endemic the issue is.
The percentage of Aboriginal people affected by suicide: 95 per cent. Percentage of child suicides between 2007 and 2011 where the child was Aboriginal: 75 per cent.
The number of threatened, attempted or completed suicides, in one community of 5500 between 2007 and 2008: 143.
Since 1999, the suicide rate among Aboriginal communities has skyrocketed.
There were no official numbers of suicides among Aboriginals prior to 1960: in fact, many Aboriginal cultures – including in the ancient Yolngu language – there is no word for suicide.
The effects of mental health are an incredibly new issue for one of the oldest groups of people in the world, and it’s proving to be endemic.
Something that touches everyone
While the fallout of Elijah Doughty’s death has shed a very visible light on the issue of suicide, it’s also critical for us to remember that depression, anxiety and any number of other mental health issues can be invisible, insidious and unknown until it’s too late.
Twenty-six year-old Melbourne-based musician Fergus Miller – known as Bored Nothing – died earlier this week, after what friends deem a long battle with depression.
In his own way – in the way of so many troubled artists who suffer their own personal grief publicly – Miller spent his too-short career addressing the very issues that tragically got the better of him; the issues we have this week for.
A bedroom musician who loved reverb and feedback in the true traditions of his slacker-rock idols, Miller’s introspective songwriting unveiled a keen awareness, but also an often-unsettling side of his personality; one of separation and alienation.
“He meant the world to his friends and family and although our hearts are breaking, his songs will be with us all as we fight to continue life without him,” Brisbane band Major Leagues announced on their social media following the news.
“Please remember to hold onto your loved ones, as there are times when life can really stop you in your tracks, but it’s the people around you who pull together to get each other through. If ever you are feeling down or feel like everything is getting on top of you, please remember that there is always somewhere to turn or help to be found.”
A national priority
I use the two above examples, because they are clear and visible examples of what goes wrong when we get lost in the mire and the debates of who’s right, who’s wrong and who’s in between.
We’re currently watching as lines are once again drawn on so many important topics – marriage equality, abortion, race, religion – with an inherent rage and hatred extending between extremes.
It’s nothing new: people will always argue. People will always hold their opinion, and hold it with passion. It’s how ready we are to forget about the damage we are capable of doing to our fellow man that scares me, though.
We will argue about what has happened in Kalgoorlie for a while. We’ve done it before, we’ll do it again. Numerous people will attest to a solution, something that can be done to start repairing the damage that’s been done – and I don’t just mean in terms of the Indigenous gap; I also mean lonely teenagers, frustrated Muslims, the forgotten elderly, and basically anyone else who’s felt the gaze of the Black Dog in their lifetime.
But there will never be an all-encompassing solution. There will never be a universal cure for depression, for anxiety, for suicide. Instead, we each have to take on some level of responsibility to make the people and places around us better.
We will always look back in sadness when someone takes their own life. Commonly though – and partially, clearly, because it’s too late – we are not prepared to be critical about the things that cause it.
We are too often not prepared to level a pointed finger at the hate and anger that fuels racism in Australia.
We are too often not prepared to admit just how much pressure the modern, ever-globalising world puts on teenagers who are desperately trying to find their own identity.
And we are too often prepared to not admit within ourselves how everyone, at some point in their lives, will be at the bottom, with no visible way out.
We need to be there for those people, as much as we need support when we find ourselves in those situations.
We need to stop demonstrating hate, because the only end result of that is making others feel hated.
I don’t care if you feel threatened by the Muslim family down the road, or the Asian manager of your local supermarket, or the teenager that keeps skateboarding past your house. I couldn’t care less about how angry they make you. The minute you start verbalising that hate, you are making the world around you worse.
I feel, as someone who has suffered through mental illness and takes the issue very seriously, we are often too ready to over-complicate the situation.
But, if we want to begin fixing these issues – actually, practically fixing them – the solution is very simple: treat people with respect. Be kind. Don’t make a stranger feel unwanted, because they are different to you.
Welcome them in instead. Ask them if they are ok. You’ll feel better, and you’ll be making a small step towards the goal Mental Health Week is aimed at in the first place.
If you, or anyone you know, is struggling with mental health issues, there is a range of services available.
Lifeline: 13 11 14
BeyondBlue:1300 22 4636
Kid’s Helpline: 1800 55 1800
Women’s Domestic Violence Helpline: 1800 007 339
Men’s Domestic Violence Helpline: 1800 000 599