- by Peter Wills
- The Guardian
- Issue #2003
Suicide in Australia is the leading cause of death for people aged between fifteen and forty-four with one in five people being diagnosed with a mental illness at some stage of their life. In 2019, 3,318 Australians took their lives through suicide with over 65,000 attempts; that is nine Australians every day taking their own lives. These are preventable deaths and a result of a lack of government support and funding for mental health services. While levels of general health and hospital funding are often brought up (and politicised) little is ever said about the escalating rates of mental illness with little funding and solutions offered to help alleviate the devastating effects on families and communities.
The suicide rate amongst First Nations people is twice that of their non-Indigenous counterparts due to the effects of colonialism, stolen generations, having their land stolen and misused. Additionally, the remote health services available to them are often underfunded and the continued enforcement of racist laws and policies – not to mention negative interactions with law enforcement officials – have led to this alarming statistic. As a result, many First Nations people with mental illness end up in jail simply because there is nowhere else to go. However, jail time only exacerbates mental health conditions, and people often come out worse than they were previously.
LGBTQI+ community members experience significantly higher rates of suicide than the rest of the population. The LGBTQI+ community is estimated to experience up to fourteen times higher rates of attempted suicide than their heterosexual peers. Contributing factors to this appalling statistic include discrimination, bigotry, non-acceptance from family and peers, and the constant need to justify their existence and sexuality to society. Archaic laws and constant attacks from right-wing politicians have left LGBTQI+ people feeling lonely, unsafe, and not wanted by society leading to suicide ideations.
People living outside metropolitan cities in rural areas are twice as likely to die from suicide than their city-dwelling counterparts. Here, males make up seventy-five per cent of the deaths by suicide. In very remote locations, the suicide rate is six times the national average. Structural factors such as little or no access to mental health services, high unemployment rates, and ready access to means of self-harm such as firearms contribute to this alarming statistic. These factors, mixed with a lack of mental health services and support services for people living in rural areas mean there is little help for people suffering from mental health issues; for LGBTQI+ people in rural areas, the situation is even worse.
When it comes to the elderly, men over eighty-five are killing themselves at three times the national average. This should come as little surprise to anyone that has followed the recent inquiry into the aged care sector. Unrealistic staff to client ratios, poor pay for workers resulting in a high level of staff turnover, worker burnout, poor outcomes for clients, clients being neglected, which have exacerbated mental health problems. So has the lack of access to mental health services to alleviate the symptoms and lower this deplorable statistic.
It is estimated that mental illness and suicide cost Australia up to $220 billion a year in treatment, caring costs, lost economic opportunity, and lost productivity, not to mention the human toll to families and communities; but why in a country as rich as Australia are there so many cases of suicide, self-harm, and mental illness? The simple answer is a lack of funding and support for mental health services. A failure to act by the federal government has led to needless deaths and suffering. Government policy like the infamous Robodebt debacle that claimed over 2,000 lives, unemployed people living on $46 a day, way below the poverty line and an industrial relations system that prioritises company profits over liveable wages is pushing working class people into debt and despair.
While some mental illnesses are inherited genetically most are not. They are the result of the capitalist system that exploits the poor working class for corporate profit. In a capitalist society a person’s worth is reduced to an economic unit – what they contribute to the economy. There is no profit to be made helping the mentally ill and few votes to be had. Mental health treatment is so underfunded that it is almost completely inaccessible, it can take years to get to see a public psychiatrist and private psychiatrists are unaffordable for the poor.
In socialist countries like Cuba where there are fifteen specialist mental hospitals and plenty of room for people that need help, no one is left behind and ample resources are committed by the communist government to ensure that everyone that needs help gets it. People are nurtured and given the help they need because like other socialist countries all people including the poor get the mental health support they need instead of being treated like an economic unit.
Only a socialist government in Australia can turn the tide and save lives because the capitalists simply don’t care about the poor working class.