As a society, is this our responsibility? 46



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[Warning: this article deals with mental illness, suicide and depression and may distress some readers. If you or a loved one needs support please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.]

Over the past week or two the media has been swamped with horrific stories. Lives have been lost, families have been torn apart and we have no real cause to blame. We can’t put the events on true terrorism, we can’t put the events down to anything racial. But what we can do is look at the facts. Right now, I am referring to two particular events – the Martin Place siege and the murder of eight children in Cairns. The Martin Place siege was orchestrated by a man who had known criminal history, who didn’t have a proper affiliation with a terrorist group but who had a disturbed – almost brainwashed – mindset. The mother of the eight children who has been arrested for the murders was believed to be a loving, caring mother who would do almost anything for her children. These are the things her friends and family said about her. They are still in shock about what has happened because they never imagined it or saw it coming.

I personally believe that in both of these cases, these people are suffering with mental illness. What type, I am not sure, but to do these things, that is the only logical reason I can fathom. And because of this I’m asking the question, is it our responsibility to know the warning signs? Is it our responsibility to be aware of the warning signs and look for help?

I am speaking from personal experience when I delve into the world of mental illness. My uncle was always a strong man and he had somewhat of a drinking problem too. When his wife divorced him, he began drinking heavily again and was even more aggressive. He fell into a cycle of self loathing, blaming himself for the divorce. When his brother tried to speak to him about it he reacted with incredible aggression and physically hurt him so no one in my family broached the subject again. We knew he was depressed and we knew he needed help, we could see it. But that conversation was too difficult and too risky so we left it alone. It took a suicide attempt before anyone could broach the subject with him.

The reason I share this with you is because we chose to not have the difficult conversation. We felt it would do more harm than good to ourselves and our relationship. We are lucky that he survived, we are lucky he was able to get his life together again and get back on track. Because the “what if” is dire – and we would have never forgiven ourselves.

Some cases of mental illness have no signs and symptoms. Sometimes people suffer in silence. But there are some things we need to look out for. A change in personality, reclusion from family and friends, a change in behaviours, a change in lifestyle, addiction, aggression, compulsion or obsession – these are all things we need to look for.

Instead of putting it down to something else, we need to open our eyes and see that so often these behaviours are symptomatic. The conversations may be difficult to have and so many people may not know how to even broach the subject let alone discuss it, but as a society we have a responsibility to do it.

What is intervention was there for either of the above cases? We will never know if it could have saved the innocent lives lost, but we do know that whether right or wrong, mental illness is something that should never be taken lightly and it is something we should all familiarise ourselves with because having that small amount of education could one day save a life.

Tell us, do you think we need to be more educated about mental illness? Do we need to accept responsibility that having those difficult conversations is something we need to do? Share your thoughts in the comments below… 


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The Starts at 60 writers team seek out interesting topics and write them especially for you.

  1. Mental illness has no class system, the rich get this illness as well as the poor. Yes I think society has a responsibility to look after these people. It is not only the moral thing to do but it is the smart thing to do, the consequences of doing nothing could and have ended in death either by suicide or by murder.

  2. I believe mental illness is one of the biggest issues we face it needs addressing nationally with lots of work , discussion and a short and long term plan

  3. My mother was severely mentally I’ll and we were subjected to extreme violence. If only we had understood she may have been able to help her but she chose to die at a young age and now I can love her and know that she only acted out of her own wounded space. We are still incredibly ignorant about mental illness and there are so many people suffering.

  4. Mental illness affect the whole of society and more money should be invested into caring for these people, they should not be demonized, it can affect anyone

  5. Mental illness of all types still carries a stigma. Things are slowly changing however that change is very slow. I have dealt with mental illness from both sides. As a welfare worker,

    1 REPLY
    • I have had to deal with people suffering a range of mental illnesses of all types. One case sticks in my mind. When I contacted the mental health assessment team to try to get help for someone suffering from depression I was told they would only deal with “major” mental illness. (schizophrenia, psychosis etc.) Mental illness services are badly underfunded. Personally, I was raised by my mother who was not diagnosed as Bi-polar until she was 82 and I was in my late fifties. I suffer from bouts of depression. My son also suffers bouts of depression having grown up with a father who has borderline personality disorder which no-one wants to deal with (too hard). Our society has in place primary prevention measures for many physical illnesses. Babies are tested before they leave hospital, we have breast cancer screening unit doing the rounds of the community. There is nothing similar for screening of mental illness. Primary care is non-existent. It is not a government priority and it is “swept under the carpet” in hopes it will go away. It is a difficult problem with no easy answers but no attempts are even being made to deal with mental illness on the same scale as physical illness.

  6. Still not used to how spell check insists on changing words… Should have checked before pressing post!!

    4 REPLY
    • just write it as you want Lyn, hopefully the spelling Police are not here today, as long as we can understand it..I can’t really see that it matters

    • Plus you can always go back and edit your comment if you want to correct something. No one will ever know. Merry Christmas.

  7. There needs to be a lot more help available for people with a mental illness especially in rural areas. My adult son has a mental illness and it’s been years of agony for him and me. It’s impossible to get a person with severe mental illness to travel hours to an available psychologist etc. People that are really down can’t handle getting ready, travelling in the car, getting there on time, sitting waiting when the the psychologist is running behind then travelling all the way back again. So they just refuse to go and it all gets worse and worse …. Country areas need more help….just look at the statistics.

    2 REPLY
    • Yes it would be difficult being a distance. But not only that they refuse on the day to go… They often get nothing from the visits either. There is no answer to why or what to do. Has to be a damn good shrink that can help anyone pull through the dull drums of depression…

    • I’m hearing you on this one. When first acknowledged by the authorities that my son had a mental problem he had to be sectioned……..horrible, horrible thing to happen. We were 7 hours from a major city and he was flown down under heavy sedation and strapped to a bed. I couldn’t go for security reasons! I immediately left by car and when i got there he was locked in a room very confused and not knowing what was going on. If only someone had listened to me or someone had been trained in mental health issues. It may have still ended up like this OR this could have been averted. Mental Health needs to be taken seriously!

  8. I think that if you try to have the difficult conversation ie “you need help from a professional” and your family member or friend rejects the idea, you can do no more in that way. It is their choice. As a friend, you can continue to be in contact, ‘be there’ for them, give honest opinions if asked for, and give acceptance. Certainly more funds and resources are needed in mental health services, but this is my answer to the above questions, and is the result of my own experience in such situations.

  9. TI think the medical profession needs to be more understanding tothe victims of mental illness and listen to their issues.

  10. This is a really big question. It is my experience that even if you do have the open discussion and the person is given help, that alone may not be the answer. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be one straightforward answer that fits all cases, but I think you are right, we still have to try to reach out and step in to try and get appropriate help.

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