The latest suicide figures from the ABS are alarming, worrying and hide a world full of suffering for loved ones.
We have an unacceptability high rate of teens committing suicide, more girls and women, and more older men. Something is seriously wrong with our beautiful Australia.
It is a complex issue that has many contributing factors — suicide can impact even the most loving families.
If we add to the mix that we have a significant increase in children's anxiety, adolescent mental health issues, more aggression — road rage, cyclist hatred, online trolls — the sexualisation of childhood and the damage of easily accessible porn, more addictions and family violence, it is seriously time to question some of the trends that have been normalised in our consumer-driven, chaotic world.
Humans are biologically wired to live in relationships, in family networks within communities.
Unlike any other species we are capable of intimacy – but this capacity requires us to learn (preferably early in life) the codes of cooperative living. We need to develop emotional, social and spiritual competence.
We need to have moments of pleasure and delight with people we care about, preferably around food, where we can share stories and laughter, as well as be able to ask: "are you ok".
We spend so much of our waking hours striving and yet research shows that the true secret to life happiness is in relationships not in the things we spend time seeking — more wealth, bigger houses and more stuff.
So what's changed?
Much! Our children now play less for many reasons and we need to realise that 'play codes' and emotional awareness are built with hours of real play, not virtual play.
Play helps build creative thinking, cooperative and collaborative negotiation, empathy, patience and the ability to make friends.
Yet play is under threat in the early years. We simply must stop stealing childhood in the name of education and creating disconnection in our classrooms.
It is contributing to more anxious and stressed children who are susceptible to mental illness in adolescence and adulthood.
Human connectedness matters.
The tsunami of technology has been a double-edged sword. Yes we have access to so much information and can be more connected with family and friends around the world. However we tend to communicate more briefly, via SMS, emails and quick messages on social media.
The negative impacts especially social media abuse, the ease of sharing sexualised images and porn, the perpetuated illusion of perfection, the scams and identity theft, the increasing sense of FOMO … all create pain and separation.
Many families have been isolated in their own homes as multiple devices draw them away from each other. Less conversations over dinner, in the car and over coffee gradually erode warm linkages not only in families, but between generations.
Positive human connectedness needs real time and physical intimacy through safe touch.
The addiction to 'busyness' has created an overscheduled and overloaded world of things to do and fit in, which often creates unnecessary stress in homes and schools.
Again, when we follow this style of life we see less of our friends, our children and our extended circle. We have less time to recreate, share joy and delight … to just 'be.'
Gaining a level of financial security and a safe place to live are still worthy goals, however we must pause to ask when is our way of living and being actually 'enough'? What is sustainable?
Over the years we have weakened the 'village' and the sense of belonging in our community.
We cannot continue to expect our governments and NGOs to fix our social problems with funding, programs and research alone.
We need to start in our own lives and homes, in our own communities.
First maybe we can start with ourselves by being kinder to ourselves – stop the comparison, stop beating ourselves up and start making time for self-nurturing.
Then we can make time to connect in loving ways with our partners and sons and daughters – intimacy needs attention to happen.
Then we can reconnect with family and friends we haven't seen in a while –plan BBQs, picnics or even better a holiday.
When sh#% happens to those in our family or community we need to be there – for as long as it takes – especially if we hope someone will be there for us when adversity comes knocking on our door.
Then reach out and meet our neighbours and make time to volunteer (even a little) in schools and clubs to ensure we lift the sense of belonging. Getting involved in non-work activities not only connects us to others, it is food for our starving souls and reduces stress and increases happiness.
If we start with the hopeful intention to be a part of the positive change needed to save lives and then follow this up with small acts of kindness and compassion, we can all help heal this profound wound of human disconnectedness.
We are all in this together. We can do this and we can start today.
Maggie Dent is a parenting author, educator, resilience specialist, mother of four sons and a grateful grandmother. Maggie is the author of seven books, and a prolific creator of resources for parents, adolescents, teachers and early childhood educators. www.maggiedent.com