‘Joke’ shines light on issue

Tragically suicide has always been with us. But a combination of its growing impact on communities and a more vocal demand to address its causes, has elevated its status as a subject that must be talked about publicly.

Part of this has been the need to talk about it in a sensitive way that will not contribute to stigma. Yet discussions around suicide are especially difficult with young people who are at a vulnerable age. 

An incident at Daylesford Secondary College earlier in the year has thrown the complexities of the discussion back into the spotlight. In this case, a teacher discussed suicide in a joking manner in a classroom of year nine students.

 After a complaint from a parent, the incident was dismissed by the school as a “trivial matter” as it was determined, by the school, that the conversation took place “in jest” despite it distressing another student sitting in the class.

The complaint was subsequently dismissed by the Department of Education as being a conversation which was taken out of context.

National Clinical Advisor at Headspace, Karen Fletcher, said the organisation wanted schools across the nation to talk about mental health in a positive way.

“Headspace advocates for mental health to be destigmatised and for schools and community groups to discuss the importance of asking for help if you’re not feeling okay,” Ms Fletcher said.

“You never know who in a room may be feeling suicidal or who is susceptible to feeling worse because a joke has been put out there or there has been ridicule for feeling a certain way.”

She encouraged young people to reach out for help if they needed it and to look out for their friends.

“We want to destigmatise the fear around mental health and the sense that a person feels they’re not good enough if they can’t cope with feeling sad or anxious.”

Ms Fletcher said talking about mental health in a positive way was very important as was using responsible language when discussing the issue of suicide.

She said if a child asked about suicide, it was important to ask inquiring questions around where the questions had stemmed from to determine if the child was feeling suicidal or if they had simply come across the issue. 

She said it was vital for adults to be able to have reasonable conversations about the topic, without shutting it down, before relaying help seeking messages. 

She said schools played an important role in “building a mentally healthy community” from hosting R U OK days to arming teachers with the skills around how to have conversations about good mental health.

Anybody needing assistance with talking to a young person about mental health can read Headspace’s online resources. 

If you are affected by this story, contact Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800.