Much has been made of the government’s budget commitment towards tackling mental health needs and suicide prevention. Whilst the election influx of funding will no doubt be welcome, it is hard to believe that this government really wants to address the issue.
If they were serious about their concern, they would look at who the most vulnerable groups are and what the contributing factors might be.
We know the LGBTQI community suffer a higher risk of suicide yet this government vehemently opposed the Safe Schools anti-bullying program, put us through a divisive survey where we were asked to decide if our fellow Australians should be allowed to marry, and then formed a committee to determine how religious people could continue to discriminate against gays.
Indigenous Australians are also a high-risk group. The Black Dog Institute identifies drug and alcohol abuse, poor living circumstances and trauma as contributing factors and suggests that protective factors that make us more resilient and that can reduce suicidal behaviour include supportive social relationships, a sense of control, a sense of purpose, family harmony, effective help-seeking and the availability of positive connections to good health services.
Instead of this, the government has imposed the cashless welfare card on Indigenous communities based on their postcode rather than their individual circumstances. Indigenous people are taken from their families and incarcerated for minor misdemeanours like unpaid fines. Community support groups have had their funding slashed. Remote communities have had services cut because living on their traditional land is now described as an unaffordable “lifestyle choice”.
Overall, the age-specific suicide rate in 2017 was highest in men aged 85 or above (32.8 per 100,000), which has been the age group with the highest rate since 2011. Yet the religious influence on government has made discussion about dying with dignity one fraught with a lack of understanding.
Many people are terrified about the idea of going into an aged care facility but the government steadfastly refuses to regulate about staff qualifications and staff to resident ratios. Accessing home care packages that would allow people to remain in their own homes for longer is a tortuous process.
Tragic cases of children committing suicide highlight the dangers of bullying yet the highest office-bearers in the land dutifully line up each week to be bullied by the bullies-in-chief, Ray Hadley and Alan Jones. The language used by the government and the behaviour displayed in Question Time is an appalling example of shouting and intimidation rather than the respectful debate we should expect from our leaders.
An estimated 400 Australians with gambling-related problems commit suicide every year but this government, as one of its first actions on taking office, decided to wind back the already inadequate gambling reforms introduced by the Gillard government. The Tasmanian government actually made keeping poker machines a campaign issue in the last election. They would rather appease their donors and rake in their share of the profits than protect their constituents.
Poverty can also be a contributing factor in self-harm yet the government steadfastly refuses to increase welfare payments to a basic subsistence level.
Mahatma Gandhi once said that ‘The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members’.
Unfortunately, we have a government who is more focused on wealth creation than on protection and support for those who need it the most.
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