November has seen more people lost to suicide than in any other month this year. More than a quarter of the suicides are of persons born overseas, with a significant proportion relatively newly arrived. The grim reality is that the end of year and the beginning of the new year are an elevated risk period. The festive stretch, particularly the impoverished, is for many an elevated risk period to depression, aberrant behaviour, suicidal ideation, suicide. For those who live below the poverty line, where newly arrived migrants are disproportionately over represented, it is an even more elevated risk period than is for other Australians.
We hear a lot, relentlessly, of migrant success stories, but we do not hear anywhere near enough of those who struggle, for those who the Australian dream became a nightmare. One in three of Australia’s homeless are comprised of the migrant born. Despite all the success stories of migrant Australians, of Australians whose first language is not English, of their children and of their children’s children, sadly the majority have struggled, have failed in their expectations and have been overwhelmed by the stressors of their journey. They are the forgotten, the unheard, they do not have the agency of the successful to tell their stories. They are voiceless and lost in translation.
Greeks, migrant born, and Greek-Australians second and third generation are no exception to the above preamble. Street homeless Greek Australians are increasing in numbers, there are more living below the poverty line than ever before, more suicides.
The festive stretch – from Christmas and into the new year – is a time of elevated risk to acute depression, serious aberrant behaviour, suicide for those who feel failed, who are drowning in a sea of stressors, who feel they do not fit in, who feel inadequate as parents, as family members.
It is also an elevated risk period for those families who recently have lost a loved one to suicide or an unnatural death, particularly of a young person or parent. They are entering their first festive stretch without their loved one. They may feel distressed and a sense of isolation.
The Australian suicide crisis is indeed this, a crisis and should never be understated. Suicide takes twice as many Australian lives as all other forms of violence combined, including homicides, military deaths and the road toll. The suicide toll should be the nation’s most pressing issue – the issue of our time. But alas it is not.
What is it that we can do to reduce the accumulation of stressors on struggling families and individuals? What is that we as family, friends and community can do to support others, to prevent the worst?
We need to be on the alert for those who are vulnerable. At this time of year we should keep a watchful eye and make possible their inclusion in our lives, supporting them.
If we have an extended family member who is struggling to care for their children, struggling to put food on the table, who can’t keep up with the festive stretch and provide for their family as those with a level of affluence can, then let us be there for them. Let us keep them solid-in-their thinking, let us spread the love and let us do it with a salt-of-the-earth approach. Keep in touch with them, do what you can for them, fill their cupboards and/or combine festivities. Do not inadvertently undermine them to their children by upstaging them, rather humbly work alongside each other to bring on a loving get together, with camaraderie, improve their circumstance and let them know they have someone to turn to be heard.
The reality is that the majority of those who suicide have never presented to anyone with suicidal ideation, were never known to have previously attempted. So if someone is struggling with life’s accumulation of stressors then yes do everything that you can to be there for them and reduce their stresses. There is no greater legacy than the one where we help one another.
People need people and we cannot just expect the seriously vulnerable to manage alone. We cannot just expect them to adjust their coping mechanisms, their temperament and their behaviours. Without support, without a friend, without love, how far and for how long can someone manage? We, as family, friends and community can contribute to the ways forward, by our very presence, by our love. Do not let those around us who are doing it tough do it alone, do not let them struggle in silence and dangerously internalise grief.
In the last few years I have written more than 300 articles on the suicide crisis and on suicide prevention. In those same years I have supported hundreds of suicide affected families and thousands of critically at-risk individuals. I know first-hand that the vulnerable need non-judgmental compassion and respectful love to help them through the most difficult of times. Do not leave them behind.
Impoverishment is one of the more significant risk factors that lead to suicidal ideation. Aberrant behaviours and depression are more pronounced among the impoverished. If we are there for others who are vulnerable this translates to a dawn of new meanings, validates people to a better understanding of the self, to a more positive psychosocial self, to a truer context of what the pursuit of happiness should mean.
We can all do more, much more than we do at this time year to dawn meanings that should matter. I am an agnostic however grew up steeped in the Orthodox Church and in my parents’ striving to do everything they could for the vulnerable. My late father, of working class stock, was vital in the establishment of his parish’s church, and in establishing afternoon Greek language education. My Parkinson ridden mother continues to volunteer with the vulnerable and homeless. We were a large family but my parents always invited to not just Christmas, but whenever there was need, the vulnerable, the struggling, the lonely. There are principles and convictions particularly within the Gospel that should be lived instead of paid lip service but alas we deal in kindness to those only of our immediate family and circle of close friends instead of a wider remit. Our days on this earth are not many but how we live our days, what we do with our days, what we do for each other should matter. Frederick Douglass, a former slave and abolitionist nearly two centuries ago struck the chord, “Between the Christianity of this land and the Christianity of Christ, I recognise the widest possible difference.”
As a nation we lay claim to responding to the suicide crisis. We are one of only 28 nations with a “suicide prevention plan”. But it’s paper-thin. It’s about encouraging services to work together in suicide prevention and postvention. As a nation we are nowhere near it. Our Governments have not prioritised this catastrophic crisis. But we as individuals, our families can be there for those that are around us, who we can see are struggling. We must lead by example. Who we are is defined by what we do.
*Gerry Georgatos is the nation’s most prolific writer on suicide prevention; a suicide prevention, prison reform and anti-poverty researcher and advocate. He is also the Director Humanitarian Projects with the non-tertiary Institute of Social Justice and Human Rights. He is a member of national projects to further develop suicide prevention, and well-being and education programs in prisons.
Gerry’s research has a focus on trauma recovery and restorative approaches. He works first-hand with the homeless, impoverished, incarcerated. He is also the National Coordinator Critical Support for the National Indigenous Critical Response Service.