January 17, 2006 | Jeff Wall

A tragic story you won’t read in the newspapers.

The truly tragic resignation of Geoff Gallop as Premier of Western Australia – announced yesterday with great courage – has prompted me to write about another tragedy likely to have been due to a form of depression you won’t read about in the newspapers.
One morning last week a young man, dressed in a business suit, jumped to his death from one of the city’s bridges, landing on the bikeway below. Apparently it was at least the fifth suicide at that spot in the last three years.
My local shopping centre had to install a high metal fence around its top floor car park because of the number of suicides resulting form young men, and women, jumping from the car park to the footpath below.
Over the Christmas period – a time we know is a vulnerable one for those suffering from depression and loneliness – it is likely that around 80 to 100 Australians, the majority of them under 30, took their own lives.
That is about the same number of deaths that occurred on the nation’s roads over the same period.
The road toll made the headlines, as it should have done. But the suicide toll passes largely unnoticed.
And in my view – a view confirmed some years ago by a very senior police officer – the road toll masks the true suicide level in our society. The number of late night single vehicle road accidents in which the car slams inexplicably into a tree or goes off a bridge is very high – and police believe that a number are in fact suicides.
It is true that the suicide rate has declined in recent years, but that may be due to improved economic conditions, or it may be due to a greater awareness about depression. But it remains high by world standards.
For males, it is about 17 per 100,000 a year. That means around 120 men commit suicide in Brisbane each year. For males under 30, the rate is higher.
Can you imagine the outcry if 120 men died each year in Brisbane in house fires, or as a result of murder?
There would be an inquiry and maybe even a Royal Commission. Yet one cause of death among young men, and young women, that is preventable seems to attract only the most marginal community interest and concern.
And this is one public health issue we must not blame governments alone for. Federal and State Governments have increased funding for suicide prevention and community education and that may have helped reduce the level from what it was a decade ago. But it remains tragically high.
The level of suicide among those with serious mental health problems is a real concern, as is chronic government under-unding of mental health.
But many suicide victims, and especially young victims, don’t fall into the mental health category as we know it.
I believe one way to address the issue among our young men and women, and those not so young, is for society to discuss more openly the causes of depression and what can be done to address it.
And if that happens, then the family and friends of those who suffer, often in silence, from depression may just be in a better position to recognise symptoms. Though we know that, as in the case of Geoff Gallop, not even his closest colleagues and staff – let alone the probing media – had even the slightest indication.
Over the last week I have thought often about the young man in the business suit who clearly could not cope any longer. For society he has become just another statistic, but his is a young life tragically lost. And my wonder is whether he could have been helped had those closest to him, and wider society, better understood his problems.
I do not know Geoff Gallop. But from a distance he came across as a wholly decent person and an effective Premier. The electorate certainly thought so. And that is how his predecessor, Richard Charles Court, described him yesterday.
His candour about the cause of his resignation is commendable. Commendable because of its courage, and commendable because it might help awaken society – and not just governments – to one of the truly tragic and growing health issues we face today.

Posted by Jeff Wall at 2:13 pm | Comments (3) |
Filed under: General


  1. Premier Geoff Gallop resigns due to depression

    I was doing a few things at home today when I was rung by a journalist asking me to comment on the announcement by Western Australian Premier, Geoff Gallop, that he was resigning from the position due to the health impacts of depression.

    Comment by The Bartlett Diaries — January 18, 2006 @ 2:35 am

  2. An eye opener for me.
    Thanks Jeff,

    Comment by Cris Kerr — January 18, 2006 @ 6:03 pm

  3. It is not enough that people are aware of depression, or that they discuss it and its effects and symptoms. We have to be discussing how we should respond, and what can be done to reduce or mitigate the many stupid things that factor into people becoming depressed – or that might alleviate the lot of those who suffer from it organically.
    My depression is a result of circumstances. I can understand the man in the suit. I have a suit of my own, that I usually only get to wear when I fancy pretending I’m a real person™. Or when I have to convince some real person™ that I’m merely unfortunate. Because being different® is wrong™
    I have been unemployed, or underemployed, my whole life. I have no superanuation, no chance of savings, and no obvious prospects of change anytime soon. I have honours degrees in science and law, so it’s not as though I’m not qualified or am incapable. But I’m different. Just a little, but enough.
    It seems that, as a consequence, I’m not anyone’s preferred candidate. I interview well, so I’m told. Just before I’m also told someone else had better experience, or a better fit of qualifications. Or whatever.
    After a few years of this, you begin to wonder what the point it. A job application as a professional requires hours of work, researching the employer, crafting your response to the ‘person specification’ … I know shit that marvels most of my employed friends.
    My depression comes in cycles, and it’s driven by hopelessness and helplessness. Government benefits do not provide for a lifestyle on their own. The DSP is “intended to be a living income” – at $500 per fortnight. With unrealistic caps on rent relief and so on, even getting to live near potential employment is a problem.
    Until an employer takes the risk of employing me in a job more complex than reshelving books, it’s hard for me to see what the point of all the effort that’s required to put in a credible application. Particularly when, as the years go by, my lack of “relevant” experience mounts higher.
    I have done volunteer work. Quite a lot of it. Some has kept me sane, and off the bridge. But it seems no one will pay for what they can get for free – or it’s seen as “not relevant”. Networking is fine, if you have the resources to keep it up. A few lunches quickly destroy cash reserves.
    Hearing wealthy people like the Prime Minister telling everyone that we live in booming economic times, and that it’s an employee’s market so we’d better remove their rights or they’ll get too powerful, makes me wonder where I missed the boat to fairyland.
    You have to be employed to be an employee. For those of us on the regular no-job-today roundabout, it’s worse than The Depression – if only because there is so much prosperity all around us that we’re not allowed in on.
    And it has nothing to do with receiving the pittance called ‘benefits’. Government ‘handouts’ don’t prevent me from participating in the workforce. Employers (and public policies) do. And as long as they do, I’ll continue to cycle in and out of boredom, and it’s bedfellow – depression.

    Comment by maelorin — January 20, 2006 @ 10:43 am

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