Late in 2015 I attended a business breakfast where the guest speaker was Jeff Kennett, the former premier of Victoria and the founder and current Chairman of Beyond Blue. I have always been impressed by people who are so well versed in their subject that they need no notes and can hold an audience in the palm of their hand. Jeff certainly did that at this breakfast.
He spoke about a number of current issues but the one that stood out for me was on the very delicate subject of suicide. For obvious reasons it is a subject that evokes a lot of emotion and not something we as a society like to talk about. Of all the things he said, what I found most alarming was a little known statistic: That for every suicide in Australia there are 30 attempted suicides.
I trusted the source but I do remember sitting there mouthing a verbal obscenity (softly) because the number was quite unbelievable. As is my nature, I later set out to corroborate his statement and discovered – sadly – that the number was true. The really devastating part about this statistic is that in 2015, over 2,500 Australians took their own lives. This means that around 75,000 attempted suicide. That’s a staggering 1 attempt every 10 minutes (source: Lifeline website). Twice as many people die by suicide compared to road deaths yet we never talk about it. Nor do we address the cause.
A report by Suicide Prevention Australia in 2014 cited a study that found that 17% of suicides in Victoria between 2000-07 were work related. If that figure is extrapolated to today’s numbers, it equates to around 425 people (and 12,750 attempts).
I find these numbers both staggering and highly disturbing, and I feel compelled to try to do something about it.
I believe that building not only a compliant but a caring culture with avenues for communication is fundamental in the workplace. Employees at all levels need to see compliance not as something mandatory but as something desirable that protects their people at a profound level. I also believe that this task does not rest with HR but should be a major preoccupation of a CEO.