Thursday 1 October 2009

Suicide shocks early morning Cairns walkers

Early on Sunday morning, a grizzly scene greeted early morning walkers along the popular Red Arrow walking track, Mt Whitfield on the North Eastern side of the Cairns Botanic Gardens.

It was yet another victim in the Far North's appalling suicide statistics.

Over the last few months, there has been an increase in suicides around the Cairns region. Whilst many forms of depression can be a trigger, relationships, sexuality and trauma from losing a job can play a significant role.

With between 500 and 600 suicides a year in Queensland, it's predicted that as much as 50 to 80 occur in the Far North. The highest statistic is young males, the high risk group being 25 to 49. Males usually outnumber females 3 to 1. According to Australian Bureau of Statistics, suicide continues to be a major public health issue, and although is a relatively uncommon event (in 2002, 1.7% of all deaths registered were attributed to suicide), the Bureau says the human and economic costs are significant.

"In addition to the loss of life, the circumstances surrounding the death can be particularly difficult for family and friends. There are also health care costs associated with attempted suicide."

However the Medical Journal of Australia says the ABS have sometimes under-reported the numbers, reversing the declining trend for suicide in recent years, due to a variety reporting problems, where cases before the coroner can take some time to ascertain.

"Some under reporting in suicide statistics is virtually ubiquitous, and has to be tolerated," the Medical Journal says. Mis-classification as accident, road accident, or disease-related, particularly in the elderly; cover-up because of stigma, sociocultural norms, or insurance reasons, even remoteness of location, are all reasons cited for reporting anomalies.

In Far North Queensland, there is a very high number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders represented in statistics. Historically they have been subjected to government legislation which continues to impact on their social health and well being, particularly in the area of suicide, the Edward Koch Foundation reports. They say that these deaths are a direct result of the ongoing impact of colonization and the impact of low socio-economic status.

Senior Constable Russell Parker of the Cairns Police says that suicide, which is rarely publicly reported, is sadly all too common.

"Unfortunately, there are way too many," Russell Parker says.

There are local support networks available to help those at risk. LifeLine will help those who feel are at risk themselves.

The Edward Koch Foundation operates Standby Response, a 24-hour service for families and friends of those effected through suicide. The programme compliments the Foundation's FNQ Suicide Prevention Taskforce.

Dulcie Bird of the Foundation, says that their Life programme designed after Cyclone Larry, for those dealing with the aftermath, is a valuable resource for the community.

"It was to help those at risk and to recognise people who were vulnerable," she says. "Not a lot know, but more people die from suicide in Australia, than by motor vehicle accidents," Dulcie Bird says. "It's quite horrifying."

Whilst numbers are rarely discussed publicly, Dulcie says the subject should not be taboo. "Suicide is a very real problem in our community, and it needs to be talked about."

Cairns Regional Councillor Linda Cooper knows all too well the trauma surrounding suicide.

"I recently lost a close friend to suicide, leaving behind a partner. It's hard to imagine what causes someone to feel that way," Linda says.

LifeLine assists those who feel that they are at risk themselves, and need support.

Edward Koch's legacy to Cairns is nothing short of incredible. He was a pioneer of tropical medicine, and medical director at Cairns Hospital in the late 1880s. Dr Koch is often remembered for his ground-breaking work in malaria research, before the connection was fully understood, he recognised a causal link between mosquitoes and malaria.

You've probably walked past Koch's memorial many times, situated at the corner of Abbott and Spence Streets on the small park next to the casino. His legacy lives on in many ways today. Regular awareness and prevention workshops are held by the Koch Foundation.

Whilst we don't know the story behind the death in the early hours of Sunday morning, there are many networks available to help.
  • LifeLine 131 114
  • Standby Response 0439 722 266 (crisis only)
  • Koch Foundation 4031 0145
  • Kids Helpline 1800 551 800
  • Street Level Youth Care 4051 6536 or 0408 770 889
  • Suicide Prevention FNQ


Peter Cox said...

Hoi Mike

Yes, the Red arrow is a bit of a hotspot over the years.

The Suicide Bereavement group meets at 7:30pm every second Friday of the month at the Red Cross room corner of Lake and Grove Streets.

It is a bastard group to be in, as there is no one can ever comprehend what the survivors have to deal with.

But at least there are some people who can understand the processes, and give some assistance.

There is a plug in the back pages of Cairns Sun once a month

A contact number is Fran 0438 635 760

Blabber said...

Surprising the suicide numbers are higher than the road toll, but we never see policemen on the front page of the paper bleating on about how terrible it is.

Sadly, there is some kind of unspoken taboo on reporting suicides, fuelled by mental health professionals citing some studies that say reporting sucicide leads to copy-cats etc - while ignoring other studies that say it is not so.

If more people die via suicide than by road deaths, it is high time the media had a rethink on that one.

SherwinJTB said...

Most cases of suicide probably never make it to the public. I'd have to agree with the coroner protecting people's identity. There are complications though because in most events we never really know the reasons of death. The cause of death is much more apparent. I think most people who attempts a suicide would be happier alive.
Suicide Prevention in Your Life

Smithfield Sam said...

If you people knew how many suicides occur in Cairns, you'd kill yourselves.

It's a horrible number, and all attributable to living in this godforsaken place. This is hell.

Lainey D said...

And again yesterday afternoon a man threw himself under a truck on the access road..just pulled up in his car, took one look at the dsriver and dived under the wheels...what a terrible place a person must be in mentaly to even contemplate doing this...Why suicides aren't publicised more I don't understand!