Alternatives to suicide
Suicide is five times more prevalent
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
When the incidence of suicide is
high, then something is wrong in that society which needs remedy, because many others unknown, beyond the
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
What can be done
- Identify and change the social and cultural pressures,
especially on young people, and teach everyone how to face those
- 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
- Action Research to pilot and evaluate measures to prevent
- 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
- 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
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
Happy teenagers have always tended to revel in a bit of morbidity
and theatrical despair - but today it is being pushed out of
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
The youth most at risk to suicide in Australia today are likely to
- Male, in rural areas with high unemployment
- Young people
under the influence of alcohol or mind-numbing drugs who commit
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
Martin Seligman. The Optimistic Child: a Revolutionary Approach to Raising Resilient Children ISBN 0091831199
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