Opinion Editorial - Graham Mabury

Opinion Editorial - Graham Mabury

Opinion Editorial - Graham Mabury teaser

19 Sep 2017

“I don’t know why I rang you actually Graham…I suppose I just wanted to say goodbye to somebody.” I had just begun to present the evening talk back programme Nightline. He was a tradie, and an ex-digger who intended to end his life when he finished the call, and had the means to do so. His chosen method meant there would be no second chances. I felt out of my depth, desperately needing back up.

Not long after I took a frantic call from our station receptionist. “Rob”, a smartly presented professional had asked to see me. He calmly announced his intention to suicide if he was unable to do so.

One evening the name “Sue” appeared in my callers waiting list. My producer had typed “religious question” alongside it. I thought it would be about one of the controversial topics of the day. Sue quietly asked, “Will God forgive me if I take my life?”

Calls like that were the reason we began employing off air counsellors which later became Lifeline WA, and I am enormously grateful for the continuing work of their dedicated and trained volunteers, and for major improvements in the provision of appropriate support from mental health professionals.

Thank God, each of these special people is still with us. The reason I mention them is that mental illness was not a strong risk factor for any of them. Make no mistake, suicide is a mental health issue, but suicide is much more than a mental health issue.

While mental illness remains a strong risk factor, over many brief yet intensely personal interactions I’ve learned that relationship breakdown, loss of access to children, sometimes coupled with work-related stress can reduce someone’s capacity to cope and their will to live. Another bad year on the farm, mounting debt and a generational obligation to “the family farm”, or the isolation of remote work places intensifying the sense of pressure have often been significant.

The people at Lifeline tell me 20% of Western Australian calls to the 13 11 14 crisis support line cite mental health problems as the reason for their call. Family and relationship difficulties, loneliness, financial stress, unemployment, chronic pain and bereavement are among the main crisis issues for the other 80%.
This awful scourge that is taking three times as many of us as the road toll is complex. For some, a suicide attempt seems to have come out of the blue – spontaneous and immediate. Others often contemplate it but never make an attempt.

To any whose family has been touched by such tragedy I want to say how sorry I am, and to assure you that sometimes, despite everyone’s love and devoted effort, a person still makes that ultimate choice. I cannot imagine your pain, but I care, and I want you to know that we simply don’t yet have the expertise to help in every situation.

But in many, many cases – including the three I’ve mentioned, you can make a difference. I had no formal training and I’m still no expert in these matters. I was simply there to listen without judgement, and to try to help my caller find a way forward. Now there are excellent resources available through Lifeline and other organizations to learn mental health first aid, in much the same way as learning CPR.

It all begins with that precious gift of really listening – compassionate listening invites someone to matter in a world that is deaf to their pain and diminishes them.

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide phone Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Graham Mabury OAM is a pastor with the Mt Pleasant Baptist Church and patron for many charities. He was a radio presenter for 6PR for 33 years, hosting the Nightline program, which eventually evolved into Lifeline WA.

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