‘People do ask for help but not the way we think they would’
WHEN it comes to the addressing the ever-present problem of suicide and self-harm, Gympie’s Murray Benton said the first hurdle was clear.
“Where do you start?”
There is no doubt it has to be somewhere though with new figures revealing more than eight Gympie region residents are taking their own life every year.
According to the Australia Institute of Health and Welfare, 41 Gympie residents died from suicide between 2015-2019, the 44th highest out of the 82 Queensland statistical regions recorded.
In per capita terms this equated to 16 out of every 100,000 residents; a rate placing Gympie in the top half of the dataset.
It was still well below the worst-impacted parts of Queensland, though.
The South and North Burnett regions recorded the highest rate with a horrifying 29 residents out of every 100,000; this was followed closely by the southern outback (27.7), the eastern tablelands and Kuranda (26.9), the northern outback (25.4) and the Central Highlands (24.8).
It is a subject close to Mr Benton’s heart.
In 2018 his family made headlines across Australia when his then 12-year-old brother Brian Birchall tried to take his own life after being the target of bullying.
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Brian survived; Mr Benton said he was doing “quite good” with homeschooling, brining home As and Bs and while there were still some struggles from time, he was expecting to graduate.
Not every family is so lucky though and Mr Benton, who subsequently became a spokesman for youth mental health spokesman, said the only way this would change was if people knew what signs to look for, and where help could be found.
“People do ask for help, but not in the way we think they would,” Mr Benton said.
To fix this he said people needed to be proactive.
“A lot of people wait for a suicide or a self-harm (before they look around for available help),” Mr Benton said.
And while an increase in flyers and advertisements might sound like a good start, Mr Benton said this was likely to miss an important demographic – youth.
“Young people don’t like red tape,” Mr Benton said.
“A lot of young people don’t ask for help … we need to look at early intervention,” he said, especially face-to-face.
He said many people did not “have a plan” for how they were going to self-harm.
Rather, it was something they had toyed with subconsciously and only acted on when a “window of opportunity” opened up.
Something also had to be done about the growing pressures young people were under at places like school.
Of course, the embarrassment many people feel at the thought of asking for help was another wall that needed to tumble before things would change significantly.
“It is quite hard for people to ask for help on any level,” he said.
- If you need help, phone Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800 or visit www.kidshelpline.com.au, or phone Lifeline on 131114.