On this day, when many people have much to say on the topic of suicide, I want to be succinct. I’ll make two observations, reach two conclusions and make two recommendations, based on our work here at First Step.
The many issues that surround substance use are extremely relevant, or even central, to the topic of suicide prevention. Here’s some cross-over:
- Every human being with suicide ideation is different, but the factors that might cause a person to want to end their life (abuse, neglect, isolation, poverty, shame) are often the same factors for which people self-medicate, using illicit drugs, for escape and relief.
- On the other hand, some people discover symptom relief in illicit substances at a critical time in their lives that can actually mean they stop contemplating suicide; at First Step some of our clients tell us that drugs saved their life. Understanding this key fact can foster empathy, hope and a ‘support, don’t punish’ attitude.
With all the complex interplay between life circumstances, mental distress and substance use, there are some helpful generalisations we can make:
- We want people to seek support for suicide ideation, mental distress and substance use as soon as they need and want it.
- Making people hide their substance use because of shame, stigma and fear of criminal sanctions postpones treatment (on average up to 27 years pass between problematic substance use to seeking help).
So, if I might be so bold, I have two recommendations:
- Our governments: Remove the lens of stigma and fund the mental health sector and especially the alcohol and drug sector like you fund physical health (i.e., 10 times more).
- Our Parliament: Pass progressive drug policy such as decriminalising possession of small amounts for personal use (see Canberra!). The war on drugs is the world’s greatest public policy failure and has killed tens of millions. Give people treatment and support, not prisons. Every year we take off that 27-year delay (see above) means life for thousands.
Patrick Lawrence, CEO
P.S. Okay, so one more sneaky recommendation: You: Cherish your friends and family. Love them and tell them you love them.
If you are struggling, or worried about someone, call Lifeline on 13 11 14