Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Suicide: Symptom of a sick system

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Over 3000 Australians died by suicide in 2017 and it remains the leading cause of death in those aged 15-44. The likelihood that you will die by suicide doubles if you are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. Members of the LGBTIQ community also experience higher rates of suicide, as do those born overseas.

Men are at higher risk than women while unemployed people, those caught in the legal system, and those experiencing family violence are also more vulnerable.

Most people who commit suicide have made previous attempts or engaged in some sort of preparatory behaviour, a significant percentage of them have seen either a doctor or a psychiatrist in the weeks and months before they die.

Additionally, substance dependency, older age, mental health issues, and experience with abuse have been identified as major contributing factors. It epitomises the need to actually address the issues and reasons that drive someone to commit suicide – possibly the most preventable cause of death that exists.

For many decades government policy at both a federal and state level has focused on ways to reduce or eliminate suicide related deaths.

From the government’s perspective, this has mostly been driven by the push to reduce the financial burden of suicide – mainly within the healthcare sector in the form of emergency department presentations, specialist mental health services, primary mental health and Medicare funded rebate services such as psychiatrists and psychologists.

Many ordinary people have pushed for these types of initiatives after being touched in some way by suicide – at least ten people are significantly affected when a loved one commits suicide. Most of us have known someone who committed suicide or who has attempted it at some time.

However, none of the government’s initiatives have had a significant impact. The suicide rate in Australia has actually increased since 2014, with most academics and professionals agreeing that the rate will continue to rise.

Why is it that despite millions of dollars being invested in prevention campaigns and programs that so many people feel there is no other way out except to take their own lives?

The programs themselves, while sometimes generating positive results for a time, do not and cannot change the systemic issues that lead people to suicide. These issues do not appear in isolation to society, rather they are symptoms of a very sick system. Capitalism prioritises profits before all else.

The health sector, while functioning at some level for the acutely unwell, does not do enough for those who are still “well enough” to not be part of it. That is, those who do not meet criteria for crisis mental health services.

Public policy and campaigns have improved the general acceptance of mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, but for many people access to mental healthcare is simply unaffordable. Medicare rebates for psychologists or psychiatrists require patients to pay the gap, which can be up to $200 a visit! Mental healthcare needs to be free for all at the point of access.

Also, waiting lists for psychologists or psychiatrists can be long, especially in regional areas where it can blow out to 3 months. How can we expect someone thinking about suicide to wait this long to see a specialist?

Public mental health services are heaving under the strain of demand and are not even funded enough to meet the needs of the patients they have. Meanwhile private for-profit mental health services charge a fortune, and are propped up by subsidies from the government.

We need urgent major investment into public mental healthcare. The starting point should be ceasing the multi-million-dollar subsidies to private for-profit healthcare providers and insurance funds. But many more billions could be raised if we taxed big corporations at a higher rate.

Ultimately though, prevention is far better than cure, which is why we need to really address the issues that lead to poor mental health outcomes. Capitalism is a system of insecurity. Whether we are talking about employment, housing, access to services or on a personal level, capitalism always puts profits before people’s needs.

A system that guaranteed jobs, homes and services to all would create improved living conditions and undermine the very basis for mental health problems. A socialist system that removed the profit motive and offered people real opportunities would be the best means to reduce the suicide rate in Australia and across the world.

By a healthcare worker


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