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Michael

Michael CONDON

Year of Award: 2008 Award State: New South Wales Social Welfare > General
To study rural suicide prevention programs - India, U.K., Italy, Canada, USA
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ABC Radio National journalist Michael Condon was awarded a Churchill Fellowship (in 2008) to research this issue. He specifically focused on farmers and suicide, travelling to India, Canada, the United States, Italy and the United Kingdom to see what strategies were being employed in those countries to help farmers out of their depression.

Michael Condon spoke to me in Sydney’s ABC headquarters at Ultimo. He said that Australia has a higher suicide rate than Canada, the United States and Britain. In every year since 1996 more people have died through suicide than in car accidents, the majority of them men between the ages of 18 and 44. The rate of suicide in rural Australia is particularly high, as farmers battle the stress and financial fallout from years of drought, failed crops and mounting debt. Rural people are generally tough and resilient. Especially in the older generation, an admission of depression can often be seen as a sign of weakness – they would rather be stoic and not talk about such things. Thankfully this is changing now, but change in rural areas does not happen overnight.

In India since the policy of mono-cropping there has been more suicide because of the much greater debt the farmers then have. Local mental health workers who know the situation and the types of people affected, and who have been trained, travel and talk to these farmers about possible solutions to their problems. This has been very effective in easing despair and feelings of being overwhelmed, and therefore, of suicide.

Someone to talk to is the most important thing in suicidal situations, whether it is face to face or by technological means. Nevada has the highest rate of suicides in the United States. Means of breaking down isolation by texting on mobile phones improved the situation.

When Michael Condon returned to Australia he spread the word about more enlightened attitudes towards mental health. He had special programs on depression and suicide on ABC Radio National’s Background Briefing and The Country Hour. He enlisted the help of former Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer to talk to farming communities, on radio and on the road. Michael writes in his report that ‘international suicide research has proved that united and caring communities have less of a problem with suicide.’

Excerpt from “Inspiring Australians” written by Penny Hanley (2015)

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