Governor-General says suicide is everyone's business

27 July 2015

The Diego de Leo Opening Address: Governor-General speaks at National Suicide Prevention Conference. 

Full text of speech delivered at the National Suicide Prevention Conference 2015 is published below (please note it may vary slightly from that delivered on the day).

Good Morning.
It is a pleasure to be with you to open the 2015 National Suicide Prevention Conference and deliver the Diego De Leo Address.
For many years Diego has been a leader here in Australia—and around the world—in how we seek to understand and prevent suicide.
To deliver this address bearing his name is both an honour and responsibility.
I think everyone in this room appreciates what a terribly complex issue suicide is.
What is it that drives people to a place of such despair, helplessness and isolation that they think they would be better off dead and that the world would be better off without them?
Well the reasons are many and varied—with social, genetic and environmental factors all at play.
But what we do know, is that despite all the time, resources and energy that has gone into suicide prevention—our suicide rates still demand our attention:
Every day 7 people take their own life—that’s two and a half thousand suicides every year.
Suicide is the leading cause of death for both men and women under 44.
Of all the deaths of young people, suicide is the cause in one in four cases.
And very sadly, the difficulties and discrimination still faced by Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex people is reflected in the fact that they are 14 times more likely to try to take their lives than members of the heterosexual community.
Now factor in the 370,000 Australians who think about taking their lives and the estimated 65,000 suicide attempts every year, and it is pretty clear that suicide is huge problem.
The sad fact is that suicide continues to claim the lives of too many Australians:
The day to day lives of too many families, friends and loved ones are being turned upside-down by its impact.
And too many people are being damaged by non-fatal attempts or are tormented by suicidal thoughts.
This is not a situation that any society can tolerate.
But because suicide is so complex, it does not lend itself to straightforward solutions.
There are no simple answers, no single cause and no easy plan of attack.
What we do know is that we have to try something different.
To find new approaches, to be creative, to come up with new ideas, new innovations and new ways of doing things.
A range of strategies are required.
But the effectiveness of the strategies we put in place are compromised if they operate in isolation from each other.
So we need approaches to suicide that are diverse and tailored but at the same time are integrated and mutually reinforcing.
Now I can see that this is not the easiest of things to do.
But it is something that must be done.
And this means for all of us…
Whether we be from government, business, the not for profit sector, or the research community.
Or whether we be practitioners, families, or people with a lived experience of suicide.
…our challenge is to come together, to connect, to share and learn and to contribute to a system that saves lives—a system that makes the goal of halving suicide rates over the next ten years a reality.
Your being here today is a practical acknowledgement of just how important this sharing of ideas and knowledge is.
And the very theme of this years’ conference Changing Systems, Changing Lives reflect the determination that already exists to improve the way we address suicide and to improve our suicide prevention programs, services and strategies.
I would also make the point that all Australians have a role to play in suicide prevention.
I have seen first-hand how communities rally around and look after each other when times are tough or when tragedy or natural disasters strike.
This is a great part of who we are.
But it is just as important that we keep our ‘emotional radar’ switched on every day—so that we are there for people who may be feeling vulnerable in their daily lives.
The ‘RU OK?’ Day is one initiative that reminds just how important it is to connect with people.
Sometimes, the very act of talking with those around you and staying in touch with friends and family is the most powerful thing we can do.
And as patron of organisations such as Menslink and beyondblue I continue to be heartened by initiatives that are tackling suicide ‘head on’.
In partnership with the Brumbies Rugby team, Menslink’s ‘Silence is Deadly Program’ is visiting Canberra schools and letting young men know that everyone has problems and that the best way to deal with them is to talk to someone.
The very simple principle is that ‘silence can be deadly and deadly isn’t cool’.
And what impresses me about beyondblue is that they have recognised that one size doesn’t fill all, and they have tailored their services accordingly.
Anxiety, depression and of course suicide, can affect anyone.
And feelings of stigma and isolation often stop people reaching out for the treatment they need.
By providing information, support and advice specifically targeted at different groups in our society we are best able to meet the need of those we are seeking to help.
So, welcome, to this year’s conference.
This is about as far removed from an abstract esoteric event as you can get.
Your work is about saving lives.
And that is why this conference and the work of Suicide Prevention Australia is so very important.
Thank you, and I wish you every success.