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On average, 2,100 Australians commit suicide each year, accounting for more deaths than those caused by road accidents. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, it is the leading cause of death amongst young people aged 15 – 24 in the country.

Last year, in the City of Casey in Melbourne’s South East suburbs, too many teenagers ended their lives. Often rapidly, one after the other, these tragedies shocked the community and left families, friends and schools in constant fear. Beaconhills College in Berwick lost 4 past and current students in the space of 12 months, heartbreakingly leaving the area desperately searching for a solution to the horrific situation.

Rowan Membrey was one of the young boys to take his life in 2011. His father, Craig Membrey, spoke to ABC earlier this year about his son.

 

Late last year, after receiving the news that there had been another teen suicide – this time of a 14 year old girl named Paige Menzies – Beaconhills College senior students Jess Cummings, then 17 and Thom Hartland, 18  decided that something needed to happen.

“It really shook up the community, especially the school we both attended.
When we found out that people even younger than us were taking their lives or considering it, we definitely knew that was the time to change things.”

In the hope that they could raise awareness of the rising suicide epidemic that appeared to be racing through their local community, they created a Facebook page called Coming Together to Prevent Youth Suicide.

Twelve months on and it has swarmed through the social media sphere, with a giant 18,500 followers to date. Whilst the Australian media currently reports very little regarding suicides, essentially to protect vulnerable individuals and families, attitudes are changing. After rumours of a suicide pact being in place in schools in the area, parents, friends and the families of those affected are pushing for the lift of these media norms. By targeting the right demographic via social media to broadcast the serious issue, Cummings and Hartland’s page exploded in a way that they never expected.

“We added six people the night we made it [the page]. The next day we had about 1000.”

Having been close with several of the deceased teenagers, both Jess and Thom have become incredibly passionate about their cause. Unfortunately, they have taken on the burden of thousands of follower’s emotions and have felt the tragic weight as teenager’s worldwide turn to the page for both help and a friend.
National charity In2Life has offered their assistance, and provided the page with professional moderators, guidelines and counselors to monitor the content that is being posted constantly.

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At a recent youth suicide forum in Berwick, the State Minister for Mental Health, Mary Wooldridge, said that almost $150,000 of this year’s Headspace funding would be channeled towards a dedicated suicide prevention worker for the City of Casey and Cardinia Shire area’s for 12 months.

“Along with the local councils, schools and youth services, the Health Department is supporting services to effectively respond to young people presenting with mental health issues and to minimise the risk of suicides occurring.”

The Honorable Anthony Byrne, MP for Holt acknowledged the bravery of those that attended the forum and held a summit to address the issue.

A recent survey conducted by major mental health organization Beyond Blue investigated the attitudes towards depression amongst Australians. CEO Ms Kate Carnell said, “It seems that many people still don’t know depression is an illness which needs and responds to treatment, and still don’t know how to help themselves or someone else who may be struggling.”

The survey revealed the following response:

*   62% wrongly believed antidepressant medication is addictive
*   34% wrongly thought people with severe depression should ‘pull themselves together’
*   25% wrongly thought it would be helpful to take a person with depression to the pub for a few drinks to help them forget their worries
*   19 % wrongly thought it would be helpful to tell a depressed person to ‘put on a brave face and push on’
*   14% wrongly thought people with severe depression are weak-willed.

“This indicates we need to work harder to make people more aware of the signs and symptoms of depression” said Ms Carnell.

A simple Facebook page created by two high school students has gathered 18,500 followers, and a community has banded together to support each other during the aftermath of a series of heart-rending tragedies.

With the State funded suicide prevention worker and the slowly changing attitudes towards the portrayal of suicide in the media, the City of Casey is trying to open the lid on youth depression and suicide in an attempt to try and understand why their children chose death.

We asked the public about their attitudes towards depression, suicide and its representation in the media.

 

If you are experiencing feelings of depression or suicidal tendencies, please contact any of the services below:

Lifeline – 13 11 14 (cost of a local call)

Kids Help Line – 1800 55 1800 (free call).

Beyond Blue 

Headspace

Monday the 10th of September was World Suicide Prevention Day. ABC’s Four Corners program addressed the issue, and interviewed Jess Cummings and Thom Hartland of Coming Together to Prevent Youth Suicide, along with the parents of suicide victims and Beaconhills College Head Master. You can watch the video here:

 

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