An often taboo subject, suicide is a major issue in Australia and around the globe, even within the Greek community, affecting the young and old.
This year, Neos Kosmos has had six phone calls about someone losing a loved one to suicide. It is a prevalent issue in our community that is not often discussed. According to Suicide Prevention Australia, 3249 Australians died by suicide last year.
Seven million Australian adults are close to someone who has died or attempted suicide and one in two young people are impacted by it by the time they turn 25.
Data and research indicate that suicide attempts in culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities, including Greek, are underreported. It is thought that this is related to the stigma of reporting it for people, their families and subsequently their community.
Many elderly people from CALD communities often believe that talking about suicide might actually instigate it.
People from these communities may experience higher levels of psychological distress compared to other Australians due to having experienced traumatic events, such as war, separation from family and friends, or the migration process.
Suicide in the Greek community
Consulting psychologist and trainer Dr Helen Kalaboukas says in some cultures, it’s more difficult for someone to talk about how they feel or to express themselves, and points to the reasonings to why many Greek women may develop mental health issues – with one being the ‘traditional’ values men have of them.
“For a long time, women had been abused by men – kept in the house, not allowed to go out.
“But these women, most of them they were heroes to me because they survived and lived for their children.
“They would not do something drastic because of their children. Of course, a lot of them became mentally ill and they become majorly depressed,” Kalaboukos told Neos Kosmos.
She adds that a lot of people who develop these problems, will a lot of times become suicidal, and in unfortunate cases, some succeed.
The majority of suicide cases are in young people, and for those in cultures like Greek, it can be parent expectations on work, education, sexual orientation and caring for them. However, for older Greek Australians, there may be a protective layer preventing suicide, and that is religion.
Many elderly people may be experiencing terminal illness, loneliness, loss of a long-time partner, which may come with suicidal thoughts.
Kalaboukas says even if these people become depressed, a lot of times they will not resort to suicide because its taboo and a sin.
A source from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia told Neos Kosmos that some people lie about causes of death.
They revealed that the church doesn’t bury those who commit suicide and in fact, one woman felt so guilty, she confessed to a priest that her husband had actually committed suicide.
Getting help when needed
Those who think they have a family member dealing with issues, the best way to start, is by talking and ask if they’re ok. From that point on speaking to a professional, such as a GP, is recommended as they can make a referral to a psychologist, therapist, psychiatrist etc.
But that is where it can become tricky for CALD people, who may have trouble dealing with a professional with cultural barriers. One Greek Australian woman who wished to remain anonymous spoke to Neos Kosmos about her experience with professionals.
She did not like dealing with a male Anglo Saxon psychiatrist and clinic because they weren’t understanding of many things in her life.
When she finally sought counselling for other matters, it was a Greek woman who she said she could relate to. They were both mothers with similar family backgrounds and talking to her was like talking to a filenáda (girl friend).
Speaking to someone who comes from the same culture, or at least a similar one goes a long way to help those in need, with Kalaboukas saying there is a connection without having met the person yet.
“We always need to find a suitable psychologist, someone they can trust and can open up to. Someone who would understand the culture where they’re coming from.”
“We understand more when young people talk about the pressure they have to live the way their parents want – to get married, have kids, be cisgender,” Kalaboukas said.
She also highlighted instances when religious matters came to factor, something strangers to the religion would not understand.
“I’ve seen many people who were talking to or calling out to Panagia or that she spoke to them. If it is not a Greek person to understand that, it could be perceived as delusion and give her medication, but it’s part of their faith.”
One woman she saw, was a 77-year-old who finally opened up about when she was raped at 20 and didn’t talk to anyone about it for 57 years.
Kalaboukas believes that more awareness about suicide is needed and that people need to understand that mental health, does not just affect the one person, but the entire family, so they too need to be checked on.
Lifeline’s 13 11 14 crisis support service is available 24/7. Anyone in Australia can speak to a trained Crisis Supporter over the phone, any time of the day or night.