How I think we can make Canberra Suicide Free
On September 8th this year, Running for Resilience (R4R) changed it’s goal slightly. We started with the goal of saving one life from suicide, as many times as possible. However, in the three years since that first run, we’ve seen lives saved in a way that we think can be replicated to prevent the majority of suicides. Additionally, we think that through community and inviting more people to the problem, we can find a solution to prevent the remainder of suicides.
As such, we’ve adjusted our goal to define what we think is possible, to make Canberra Suicide Free by 2033. En route to this goal, we need to start thinking about how we’re going to get there, so this article is designed to open source my thinking on the path I think we should take, to invite more people to the discussion. Either to present their own thinking, challenge mine, or agree that there are some salient points here worth doubling down on. Whilst I believe every word I’m writing, I’m aware that I am most likely missing something or I could be completely wrong in some areas. So please, if you have the patience to read through the below, and you’re able to forgive me for my blind spots, please offer your own perspective in the comments.
Make Canberra Suicide Free by 2033; one life at a time.
Unpacking this goal, we have a few things we need to define. Firstly, we’re choosing to define suicide as “the act of taking ones life, despite a reasonable prospect of overcoming the struggle contributing to the desire to commit suicide”. This is something we need to unpack further too. The reason we need to is because of the act of euthanasia or voluntary assisted-dying (VAD). In essence, Euthanasia and Suicide are both ‘decisions-to-die’… but they’re different, and I think their difference revolves around the “reasonable prospect of overcoming the struggle”.
How do we define that?
Good luck, it’s a bloody nuanced and charged area. But it helps to start with the extremes. For example, when my Mum was visibly nearing the end of her life, the prospect of her reversing the damage that Ovarian Cancer had done to her was very low. To be even grimmer but perhaps more relevant; before people threw themselves from the World Trade Towers on September 11, it was because there was a raging fire at their back and they were 100m in the air… tragically, their prospect of overcoming their ‘struggle’ was incredibly low.
As uncomfortable as the above examples might be to discuss, what they present is a decision to die that’s acceptable. On the other end of the spectrum is a teenager who’s being viciously bullied. This is certainly a terrible scenario to consider and I think it’s easy to empathise with someone in that position, thinking their world has no light in it. But I think 100% of people would agree, without dismissing the pain being experienced, that this situation should not warrant a decision to die, because it’s a set of circumstances that can change. The distinction between Suicide and Euthanasia or VAD lies somewhere in-between here… if that helps…
Not having this exact definition won’t slow us down, but it’s one we need to figure out before we achieve our goal. If you’re reading this and want to help, please subscribe or leave a comment
Moving on, we’re choosing to define 2033 as no suicides from 31-12-2032, or no suicides for the 2033 calendar year. And lastly, one life at a time is a reminder that this needs to be a solution applied at home first. We need to look after the person next to us before we look beyond. Even further, we need to put our own face mask on before we help the people next to us. It’s also a reminder that each struggle is unique to the person experiencing it, and whilst remedies and coping mechanisms might all seem similar, they need to be considered in the context of the person who’ll be implementing them.
So how will we achieve this goal?
Truth is, we’re not entirely sure. A big part of the reason we stated this ambitious goal was because we wanted people to join us. We knew that… despite how big mine and Benny’s heads might be… we don’t have the brain power to categorically solve suicide. So, similar to the way countless people have stepped up and helped R4R be what it is today, we wanted to leverage that mechanism to invite more heads to the table, to view this problem from different perspectives, and hopefully, arrive at the solution.
It doesn’t mean we’re not already part of the way there, nor does it mean we shouldn’t try to keep moving forward. And with goals like this, where we’re not sure of what paths lie ahead, I think it’s incredibly useful to imagine the destination and create principles based on the desired outcome, using those principles to guide our decision making moving forward. So, when I imagine a suicide free society, what can I see?
Annoyingly, I have to take a step back before answering this question and ask a different one; what does a person who isn’t vulnerable to suicide look like? I think this can be answered in two parts.
One, a person who isn’t vulnerable to suicide is one who’s not in crisis (crisis being where someone thinks that taking their life is the best decision they can make). So why would someone make this decision? When I compare my Mum’s VAD and my Dad’s suicide, I think they both made the decision to die because of the level of pain they were in. But as we discussed above, there’s a difference in the pain they felt. As far as I can tell, my Dad’s pain was based around feeling lonely, feeling shame, and feeling like a burden. Therefore, it makes sense that a suicide-free society is one where these feelings can be met, acknowledged, and countered.
Two, a person who isn’t vulnerable to suicide is one who’s prepared for crisis. Simply put, if someone has healthy habits that contribute to a healthy lifestyle, some meaning and purpose in their day-to-day activities, and an understanding that maintaining these things are paramount in crisis, then they are more likely to navigate the throes of life than if they didn’t. This doesn’t necessarily make us suicide proof, but it reduces our chances of being vulnerable and over an entire population, this results in reduced suicide figures. Now that we’ve squared that annoying question away, we can revisit that question around what a suicide-free society looks like.
I see a society where the majority of people are able to implement coping mechanisms themselves, and those that can’t, either temporarily or permanently, are helped by those that can. Furthermore, those that aren’t caught by their communities when they fall, are caught by organisations designed to catch those people. And the people beyond that? Well that will be the ongoing problem that needs solving, but over time, we’ll get better at meeting the need as it arises. And so this is where the principles come into play - what do all these things have in common that require us to consider when we’re making a decision?
Everything we do must be done in a sustainable manner. This is not a sprint and we must exercise patience. If we can’t do it in an ongoing capacity, we should be very careful to start it. The same thing applies in our personal lives; the process needs to match the outcome. We need to be patient in the goals we’re pursuing and do things day-to-day that reflect our desired outcome, trusting that over time, the consistency of implementation will get us there. A crash diet might feel like we’re heading to our goal quicker, but if we can’t maintain it and we’re not practicing the diet we need to eat to maintain our goal weight, are we really doing the right thing?
I don’t care what you think, everyone’s opinion matters…
Empathy is necessary, in all directions. Being truly empathetic to all struggles makes it okay to share all struggles, reducing the prevalence of silence, and we need to respect everyone’s opinions as an aggregate of all their life experiences and circumstances, acknowledging that what they’re feeling or thinking, is their reality. Pain is subjective to the person experiencing it, and we must be respectful of that, even if we don’t agree or understand. Because then, rather than wasting time debating if someone is in pain, we can look at remedies and treatments to prevent or treat the pain.
I choose to define community as a group of people sharing and creating experiences around similar goals or beliefs, and I believe it’s key. We’ve seen it first hand with R4R, we can read about it in the innumerable academic resources, or we can just take the vibe for what it is and accept that community is part of who we are. Ever since we figured out that we could scare lions off by getting together and throwing rocks at them, we’ve started sharpening those community skills. Community is an integral part of the solution, it not only serves as society’s safety net for people who fall, it provides us with meaning and purpose. At the end of the day, the closest thing we can find to the meaning of life is the creation of experiences and things with others.
In order for the majority of people to be able to implement coping mechanisms themselves, it requires effort. Effort to maintain a healthy and sustainable lifestyle while times are good, and effort to maintain the basics that can keep the wheel turning when times are bad. Additionally, we need effort into communities.. natures great multiplier. When we put effort into communities, we not only get out more than we give, we’re contributing to a mechanism that allows that to happen for more people. Lastly, we need effort to help others. A key cause of suicide is loneliness, and no amount of money will fix that permanently. We need to put effort into our communities so that people feel like they have somewhere, or someone, to go to.
Lastly, you might not know, but R4R has never accepted money and at this point in time, never intends to. All that you see is based on effort. Effort from runners turning up, effort from people organising to meet at non-R4R events, effort from the Dock to host us and shout us a beer, effort from Lulu to co-ordinate discounted shirts, efforts from the Writers for Resilience to share their struggles and how they’ve worked through them.
These acts are, in essence, donations… but they are donations of effort.
R4R has changed and the landscape has changed. I think we should maintain our no donation policy… but do you think we’re missing out on increased capacity to pursue our goal?
This is where we need to implement binary objectives (achieved or not achieved) for the next 12 months, that if achieved, should result in getting closer to our goals. These objectives should be reviewed annually and where necessary, longer-term objectives should also be created.
Objective 1: Continue runs
The metric for this is simple, maintain R4R runs every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Even if we have to go online if we get locked down again…
The consistency of these runs, the exercising with mates, and the community validation around the concept of resilience are changing individual habits and changing community habits for the better. These habits prepare individuals for crisis and they prepare our community to help those in crisis. We’re making hay while the sun shines and we’re storing it away for when it’s not.
Objective 2: Continue meeting the runners
The metric for this is simple too, maintain a weekly ‘meet the runner / community’ every Wednesday.
The consistency of meeting people we run with, more often than not on a deeper level, is building a powerful connection within our community. Each ragger isn’t forced to share their moments of struggle, but they often do. And this vulnerability is building a bond between people that makes our community stronger. Not only increasing the meaning and purpose for those who are part of it, it also further validates the importance of resilience and improves the capability of our community to help those who need it… even if we’re unaware of it at the time.
Objective 3: Continue open source thinking and non-meet the runner rags
The metric for this is a touch more ambiguous. I’ll never force thoughts onto paper, so the metric here is a minimum of three 25 minute blocks a week of sitting down and starting writing. If it goes nowhere, so be it, but the consistency of ‘getting started’ will, over time, lead to something. This will allow us to communicate the importance of resilience, a key pillar to achieving our goal, as well as continue the process of open source thinking.
Objective 4: Maintain capacity to pursue new initiatives
I believe in keeping your plate 80% full, just in case the dim sim trolley comes round again. This will allow us to pursue things like Writing for Resilience or Talking for Resilience (podcast in the making).
Objective 5: Organise a minimum of 4 non-regular R4R events
Consistency is key, but variety is the spice of life. We’ve got a great community itching to get around new and exciting things. Creating the opportunity for people to meet in different circumstances deepens connection and breaks up the monotony of regular runs.
Objective 6: Maintain War-room and Writing meetings
… broken record? Consistency is key. It’s important to detach from the day-to-day of R4R and revisit strategy from different perspectives. The War-room and Writing meetings are monthly discussions, and if you think you’ve got something you’d like to bring to the table, please get in touch!
Objective 7: Continue sporadic merchandise purchase opportunities
When we started, we wanted merchandise to be provided by businesses only. We wanted the only option for someone to engage with R4R was via turning up to the run and taking part. We’d reward them sporadically with free merchandise and we thought this mechanism was key in promoting continued involvement.
However, the community is strong now, and people want to represent R4R, not just contribute. So we’ve chucked that rule in the bin and we’ll be looking to offer chances to purchase R4R merchandise as often as practical. Hopefully, we can continue the partnership we’ve created with Lululemon!
Slowly but surely
It might feel like we’re moving slowly, but don’t discredit the foundation we’re laying. Each Wednesday, we have about 150-180 runners, we have more than 2000 followers across social media platforms, and we’ve got 250 subscribers for this Rag… the nucleus is there, and we’re all part of communities in our own lives that our message of resilience and community can spread to.
I know for a fact that a significant number of you are true mental health advocates. Not that you’re linked to a charity or an organisation, rather, you’re linked to a lifestyle and a genuine caring for your fellow person. The more we champion resilience with our current methods, the more advocates we’ll get, and the more advocates we’ll get, the more resilience will creep into other communities… and so on.
Our movement towards a suicide free Canberra will be exponential, slow at first and picking up pace towards the end. And whilst meeting our goal isn’t certain, our continued pursuit of it is.
Hopefully all of the above makes sense… it’s quite a bit to comprehend in my mind and I know there’s a lot of loose ends. However, I think it’s largely good enough, and an average plan executed ruthlessly is better than a perfect plan not executed at all.
Thank you for reading this far and please, however silly you might think your opinion is, or whether you think I might be offended by what you have to say… throw it out there. I want a suicide-free Canberra and if someone else wants to help achieve it, I want to hear what you have to say.
Hoo-bloody-roo and Just. Keep. Moving.
"inviting more people to the problem"- This is a big one. More conversations, more people thinking about it, spreading the web etc.
Your paragraph on empathy was perfect. Again, I think it's about making more people aware of how crucial that is.
I think ultimately mental health issues will exist whilst ever humans do, especially in the modern world we live in. I think the biggest focus should be on doing whatever we can to remove friction from the person struggling and the help they need. R4R is already removing that friction and is clearly determined to remove more. I don't think this is a silver bullet thing as Benny would say, it's millions and millions of lead ones until absolutely everyone knows where to get the help they need and are comfortable seeking it.
As you said it's not a sprint, it's going to a constant grind, but a most necessary one.
Spot on with the principles and like I said the other day, I think the first step towards figuring out how we’re going achieve our goal, is get you some more bandwidth to think about how we’ll do it.