This Isn’t Voldemort

I’m sitting here in a pool of sadness — that’s literally what it feels like to me right now: the very air might as well be water because it feels that heavy. The cause of the sorrow is two fold — today is the 5 year anniversary of a friend’s death by suicide, and I’m sad at the sudden death yesterday of former Wallaby player, Dan Vickerman — in what appears to be another suicide. I say ‘appears’ because we don’t have official confirmation of the cause of death being reported at the time of writing.

When I heard, though, it was through a post in a rugby forum where the general theme was “if they state ‘no suspicious causes’ and finish the article with a reminder that you can seek help through Lifeline, it’s basically a nod that it was suicide” . I agree 100% with that logic, and so I put a personal note on my page sympathizing with Dan’s family and reminding people that we have to keep fighting against the suicide epidemic.

I then started wondering why it is we persist with programs to combat the stigma of mental illness, why we openly fight suicide as the leading cause of death in 14–44 year olds, and why we talk about potentially pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into prevention programs. Surely, if we are going to go so far to get these fights into the light — to give hope to many and reinforce the will of all those trying to end suicide — then surely we are too good to hide behind double talk and covert messages?

I’m informed enough to understand there are risks, and to appreciate how far we’ve come that we even apply these ‘codes’ to evident suicides rather than them being hushed conversations in private rooms, but if those codes are now broadly transparent — aren’t we at the next step on our journey? Shouldn’t we call it as it is, while making sure we still keep the safe act of providing access to our brilliant services?

About 30 minutes later — one of the Spur Projects team posted a link to the story in our internal group, which caused its own dialogue about it not clearly being reported as suicide. I called out as per the above that the connected rugby community was already treating it as the confirmed cause of death, which prompted a great reply :

“So herein lies a conundrum: why do we do this for suicide? It has the potential to reinforce that dreaded word stigma. If someone dies and it’s suspected that cancer was to blame or a car crash the media reports it. But suicide deaths have to consider: the perceived societal ‘shame’ associated with it for both the person and their family and the fear of suicide contagion — the first being pretty obvious why that’s silly and the second is ridiculous: we all know what the article is trying to say. Not using the word doesn’t escape the problem. This isn’t Voldemort.”

Ladies and gentlemen — there’s my stolen title — this isn’t the “cause of death which cannot be named”. We may not change the approach tomorrow, but tomorrow needs to be when we have a grown up conversation about whether we are doing the right thing with the ‘no suspicious circumstances’ secret handshake — things are broken, and continuing as we are isn’t fixing them quickly enough.