Cleaning up has never been one of my great loves and it is worse when confronted by things that need cleaning up but seem impossible to get on top of. In the past you saw the problem and it was overwhelming and in the present it seems even more so. Of course you will never get on top of cleaning if you don’t start somewhere.
The following is in my view one of the most confronting cleaning jobs our nation faces. So this article begins with the words, “Confronting Warning” and an invitation for those in need to phone Life Line or speak to someone you know who has your best interests at heart for help.
Nicole MacKee writing for InSight quotes The University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre who released a confronting report that suggests “Even in a “best-case scenario”, Australia is forecast to see an increase in suicide deaths of “at least” 13.7% over the next 5 years.” Under their model the best-case scenario is bleak. “Australia was likely to see 19 878 suicide deaths over the period 2020–2025.” By way of comparison for the period of five years, 2016 to September 2020 statistics show that 5964 people died on our roads. According to the “Australian Institute of Health and Welfare” the 2020 data insights make clear that while suicide touches most ages it is more common between the ages of 15-40, i.e., youth to middle age. 76% of suicides are male. While males are more likely than females to die by suicide, females are more likely to be hospitalised for intentional self-harm (1.75 times); in 2016–17 females made up almost two-thirds (64%) of intentional self-harm hospitalisation cases.”
Whichever way I look at that presentation, the clean-up job seemed overwhelming. Kiama is 30 minutes away from where I will be living in 2021. The Sunday Telegraph reported that “the seaside community of Kiama is reeling after seven people suicided in as many weeks — ranging from a 14-year-old boy to a father of two primary school students. But the statistics doubled to 14 in recent weeks when taking in deaths across the Illawarra region.” Sadly the Illawarra is just one region. In 2018 the Northern Territory had the infamous privilege of the highest suicide rate in the country. Where we live, the New England, is not without its casualties.
This is not an academic paper on the reasons for suicide which are many, nor can I offer a panacea for the grieving, and in my experience there are no easy clean options. Other professionals might say it better and I pray that I am not saying it poorly. I personally live with the suicide of a close friend for which no amount of clean-up solutions could have stayed his hand. Inadequate as I feel to speak into this issue, none of us should be left throwing our hands in the air surrendered to inevitability. I am not in a state of denial about suicide but I refuse to accept that anyone should see death as a better option than life. God created us for life and the redeeming work of Jesus Christ was to offer us the hope of life beyond death. God intended us to live even when we die. I grieve those contributing circumstances that mar life so badly that death becomes the choice. And beyond suicide, while blame is not the journey that the grieving should take, there is no mistaking its suffering aftermath.
So for what it is worth, when it comes to youth suicide, I am asking parents to clean up our acts. Our children need us to exhibit love and express love. They need quality time that often requires quantity time. (Be careful with the expression, “Quality Time” because it often describes the parent’s perspective rather than the love needs of our children.) Turn off the media our children are drowning in for some time together and talk and share and build the bonds of trust that will allow them a safe place to speak of their problems and sorrows. Have dinner together around the table telling all the devices they are not invited. Be involved with your children. Keep your promises to them so they learn that you’re trustworthy. It might seem an odd approach to the issue but exercise firm discipline and give them clear boundaries such that there is security for them.
I want to highlight the social media issues. An article in the American Journal of Public Heath notes, “There is increasing evidence that the Internet and social media can influence suicide-related behaviour.” Noting “Tik Tok’s” recent problems with a recorded suicide and the web of social media, perhaps it’s time to offer our children a better option than their smart phones and free internet access. I believe family is the best option by a country mile and parental supervision is a gift.
Friends can also play a part in suicide prevention for people of any age. Keep the lines of communication open with your friends, especially when they seem to be withdrawing. If the conversations reflect hopelessness and despair don’t be frightened to ask about their thinking and if they have life ending thoughts. Avoid being judgemental and assure them that you will not reject them as you don’t want them further isolated. Talk with them about their circumstances and refer them to help if you think they need it. Go with them as a friend if you can. No one is an expert when it comes to depression and suicide but the stakes are so high that there may be occasions when you will need to inform teachers or parents or even authorities of your concerns. That will be tough but it may just save your friend’s life. My Psychologist friend offers this advice, “The more you listen, the more you reach out and follow up the better.”
The issues of life and death find their place within a community. When the community is relationally sick, entitled, criminal or loveless, the consequences will be catastrophic. Like it or not, the media creates community and at the moment it’s creating a community of cynics, the disillusioned and the hopeless. Adults and children alike are impacted. By contrast a community that is less interested in being entertained, which gets relationships right, and which, in love, counts others as more important than themselves, will create an environment where people want to live and be helped to live. So clean-up prevention is the responsibility of us all.
To those of us touched by suicide, I pray. For those considering suicide, I pray. I pray because God offers life. To know that God offers a fresh start in relationship with him, forgiveness of all that is past and hope for the future is not unhelpful when considering the prevention of this broken life reality. May God help us all to play our part in its clean up.