Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Gavin Larkin, an advertising executive with Sydney-based marketing agency The Brand Shop, has turned to promotion to raise awareness about suicide - the great taboo. On opinion website The Punch, Larkin states that he wants to "directly address the 'taboo' and get people to confront and talk about suicide".

Elsewhere, on the website of digital marketing company Alpha Salmon, Larkin reiterates his message in a 24 November news release.

“Suicide is such a massive issue, but no-one talks about it. It’s a taboo subject. The irony is that to tackle it, we need to talk about it – that’s the idea of the campaign."

But I fear that Larkin is going to find entrenched views about the reporting of suicide in the media, where it is believed to be a no-no.

It's great that Larkin has decided to launch the R U OK website, which contains stories from people who have experienced suicide - everyone will come up against it at some point in their life.

But without the media on board, I can't see this initiative really 'taking off'. Every time there's a suicide, why don't we hear about it? Larkin personally spent time researching the problem, and this is what he found:

Every year it kills almost twice the amount of people than die on the roads. It has no prejudice - old, young, male female, rich, poor, city, country, black, white, Christian, Muslim, mentally ill, sane. It touches everyone.

But the stat that really pisses me off - which I find the most abhorrent for a place that can rightly claim to be the “Lucky Country”- is that for every person who takes their own life it is estimated between 10 to 15 try.

I remember when I was a young man, helping to put together a poetry magazine around the traps in Glebe, Sydney. There were a dozen or so of us, lead by a school teacher with a love of writing. We met above bookstores and in the first - as far as I know - combined bookstore/cafe. We edited, replied to correspondence, applied for funding, talked, wrote, distributed, organised printing, and completed layout in the days before computers arrived to automate the process.

It was a fun time. Nevertheless, one of the young men in our group killed himself. There was a sweet sadness around the ways as this piece of information was communicated to everyone who knew him. But did we ever talk about why? Were there stories in the local press to explain what had happened?

Nothing at all.

Changing this mindset would require something like proof that more information can help. I wonder if Larkin's push for greater transparency will contain enough momentum to shunt out of the way the accumulated prejudices of hundreds of reporters, editors, and publishers.

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