Carlo Laruccia, 42, a former chief financial officer from Melbourne, never imagined in his wildest dreams he’d attempt to end his own life. Now an ambassador for Beyondblue and speaker for Sane Australia and Well Ways, he’s one of several suicide survivors sharing their stories to break down stigma and promote community openness on the topic in order to save lives.
While the road toll might get more publicity, suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians aged 15-44 according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Of these, 75 per cent are men.
“SPA views suicide among men of all diversities as one of the more complex and challenging, yet preventable, health issues facing Australian communities today,” Suicide Prevention Australia state in a 2008 position statement, Men and Suicide: Future Directions. They recommend the implementation of a national health and wellbeing strategy for men, recognising their diversity and encouraging the concept of ‘help-seeking’ by men, starting from school age.
I’d never practised or learnt how to open up and be vulnerable and really talk about some of the stuff that had been going on.
Laruccia reveals being male and a high achiever made it additionally difficult to talk about his problems. “I was kind of at the top of everyone’s expectations. So when my mind started experiencing these symptoms of depression, anxiety and psychosis, I’d never practised or learnt how to open up and be vulnerable and really talk about some of the stuff that had been going on.”
His own personal dark patch occurred in 2008 amidst a toxic combination of relationship and work pressures, knee reconstruction surgery, depression, anxiety and psychosis. Laruccia credits his recovery to medication, the persistence of his ex-wife in making him seek help, learning life skills and regular pilgrimage hikes along the Camino de Santiago.
Coming from a Catholic European background that considers suicide a sin - Laruccia went to Catholic schools and attended church until his thirties - further stifled communication about mental illness, he says.
As an outpatient, Laruccia heard similar stories from people attending from an Asian background. “There’s non-recognition of even mental health diagnoses,” he says. Within Australia, those from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds remain the most vulnerable to suicide with rates 2.5 times higher than non-Indigenous Australians, according to Suicide Prevention Australia.
Conversely, 58-year-old Evan Bichara, found his Greek Orthodox community protective. Born in Egypt, and now based in Victoria, Bichara says, “I found certain strengths in Greek and Egyptian culture - both are collective orientated. My cultural background keeps me sane. When I had a suicide attempt the whole family got sick. The whole family had to recover.”
Bichara made an attempt on his life in the 1980’s. “It was a grey patch of my life, a short time, though very uncomfortable and unbearable,” he reflects. “I was trapped; feeling invisible; had no one to talk to. People I knew back from school days moved on with their careers, their lives and their relationships, but me … I was stuck to a desk job day in, day out.” Now leading a happy life, Bichara credits his recovery to his own personal willpower, his faith, family, marriage to second wife Tammy (who he married in 2006) and friends.
My cultural background keeps me sane. When I had a suicide attempt the whole family got sick. The whole family had to recover.
Kim O’Neill, chief executive officer of counselling service On the Line, reveals, “sixty-five percent of people with a diagnosable mental illness do not access treatment, which is believed to be related to ongoing perceived stigma of mental illness and consequent feelings of anxiety, fear and shame.
“Many men struggle to seek help when things go wrong,” she says. “We need new ways to engage with men when they want support. This starts with breaking down stereotypes about masculinity and what it means to be a ‘man’; and encouraging men to learn to talk about their feelings and ask for help. O’Neill says most suicidal thoughts are related to mental illness or loss including relationship issues, job loss or long term unemployment, financial and legal issues. “Personal counselling is an effective way for men to talk through their issues and feel supported to get back in control of their lives.
It’s vital to reach out. “If I had have been connected and helped earlier on, I think things would have been prevented from getting as bad as they did,” Laruccia says.
For help or information call:
Lifeline – 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 46
MensLine Australia - 1300 78 99 78
Beyondblue - 1300 22 4636
SANE Australia helpline 1800 18 SANE (7263)
Salvo Care Line – 1300 36 36 22
For people from a culturally and linguistically diverse background:
Multicultural Mental Health Australia
For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People:
Local Aboriginal Medical Services available from www.vibe.com.au