When Bill Shorten sat down to prepare some remarks for a parliamentary breakfast on suicide, he reflected on how many people he knew who had taken their own life.
He stopped at about seven.
“The thing about these people I thought about is that they remain forever young,” the opposition leader told an ‘R U Ok?’ gathering at Parliament House in Canberra on Tuesday.
Mr Shorten said he questioned what he could have done to help them or whether people didn’t see a sign.
He’s not alone. Seven people commit suicide on average every day in Australia.
“It is a silent crisis at the heart of our nation,” he said.
“These are preventable deaths.”
Mr Shorten reflected on veterans who feel let down by the nation they served and young people who feel like they don’t fit in.
The world of social media had created a form of emotional distance, a world of exotic holidays and glamorous events, he noted.
“The challenge is to look beyond the superficial snapshots of endless good times. To go further than simply clicking ‘like’.”
Mr Shorten believes MPs and senators are actually well placed to understand the message of the suicide prevention charity.
“In this very large building with thousands of people it can be a hard and isolating experience.”
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said suicide prevention was about people but the high statistics demand everyone do much better.
He believes a reluctance to talk about mental health issues – whether because of stigma or taboo – has been a barrier.
“You can’t deal with a problem that you don’t acknowledge,” he said.
Mr Turnbull noted the work of the late Watson’s Bay resident Don Ritchie who invited anxious people at The Gap nearby in for a chat and a cuppa.
“He would gently lure them back from the brink by doing no more than showing that he cared for them,” he said.
“That is why ‘R U Ok?’ day is so important.”
Mr Shorten was glad the event brought the two leaders together.
“It’s a galling thing when you’re leader of the opposition and the prime minister yells slogans at you,” he said.
“But then occasionally sometimes he gives a speech like that and I think ‘you’re not too bad after all’.”
Both agreed the mutual feeling would be over by question time.
Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.