October is Mental Health Awareness Month and with it comes a flurry of stories on suicide in the news. This is an important time to talk about suicide prevention, and also how suicide affects families, friends, and communities. In this article, I’m sharing some words from ABC’s chief online political writer Annabel Crabb that tell why conversations matter, and how her recent presentation in Hervey Bay mattered to me.
Annabel Crabb: ABC’s chief online political writer on her brother’s suicide
When ABC’s chief online political writer Annabel Crabb was first billed as the keynote speaker for the annual Lines in the Sand festival on the Fraser Coast, I was one of the first to book a ticket.
However, the Covid pandemic put her talk on hold for three years.
So, in September 2022, when she could finally talk in person at the resurrected festival, it was a long-anticipated event.
I didn’t know what her topic would be, but that didn’t matter.
As a former journalist and long-time fan of her work, I knew it would be worth hearing, regardless.
A topic she spoke about during the Q&A session afterwards, however, resonated with me to a far greater extent than anything else she’d prepared about her life’s journey from a small farm near Adelaide to reporting on politics in Canberra.
Early in the session, she told us she was taking a break from her long-service leave to speak, but later, while talking about music and how songs can evoke memories, she elaborated further, sharing some insight into her family’s recent tragedy.
Behind the smiles and laughter of her witty presentation was great sadness—she was grieving the loss of her brother to suicide.
“I don’t mean to get too depressing, but I’ve had a very weird, horrible year because my brother died in January (2022),” Annabel said.
“He took his own life, which was very confronting for me and my family. That’s part of the reason I’m on leave now, to fall apart a little bit.
“You know, I made a decision early on after that happened, to talk about it in podcasts because one of the first things I learned as a ‘baby’ journalist was that we didn’t report suicides.
“Looking back on that, it’s the cruellest thing.
“I know that at the time that was our policy, because, you know, to deter copycats, but what a lonely thing it is to lose someone in your life and have people pretend it didn’t happen.
“It’s horrible. Horrible!
“So, when you’re going through something very dark like that and you’re surrounded by friends, then, that is the way through.
“There’s no easy way, but having company is very helpful.
“Also, having people tell you totally inappropriate jokes throughout, is something that I’ve really learned.
“People often worry about what to say to bereaved people.
“I remember when Leigh Sales’s father died suddenly, she had just finished writing her excellent book Any Ordinary Day, which is all about this.
“I’d just finished reading the proofs of that book, so when she rang me and said ‘Dad is in hospital; it’s not good’, I went straight around to her house.
“I didn’t feel awkward and I wasn’t afraid because I’d just read her own bloody book, which she’d written on how to handle this situation.
“How is that for prep? It’s a great book, by the way! Everyone should read it.”
How conversations on suicide can help the bereaved
I was grateful that Annabel spoke so candidly about her brother’s suicide at her presentation.
Back in the 1990s, when I was a budding journalist, I too learned that reporting on suicide was off limits to the media, and we respected the theory of the day.
Tragically, in 2013, my husband died of suicide and I’ve found the silence still exists, not just in media but throughout our society.
I’ve found most people avoid talking about suicide, and while I agree it is difficult, open conversations are important in helping bereaved families with their grief.
Annabel recommended reading Any Ordinary Day: Blindsides, Resilience and What Happens After the Worst Day of Your Life, so I’ve purchased a Kindle version to do so.
For anyone else wishing to read it too, just click on the image and follow the link.
Feeling down? Help is just a phone call away!
If you or anyone close to you is distressed or experiencing an emergency, call Triple Zero (000) as soon as possible.
Counselling support services include:
- Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 or at https://www.beyondblue.org.au/
- Lifeline on 13 11 14 or at https://www.lifeline.org.au/
- Black Dog Institute: https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/emergency-help/