MP speaks of father’s suicide in maiden speech

Julian Lesser, who was elected as the federal Member of Parliament for Berowra in NSW in July 2016, has spoken about his father’s suicide in his maiden speech. You can read the full transcript of his speech here. The key extract in which Julian speaks about suicide prevention is published below.

By Julian Lesser

My father loved music.

He played 2CH on the radio from the moment he woke up to the moment he went to bed. Easy listening music was the sound-track of my childhood.

But the day he died the music died with him, and it was years before I could listen to his music again without tearing up.

Over the past twenty years I have gone back over the week leading up to my father’s death too many times – and I keep thinking back to the signs he was giving us.

Although we had always been a family that hugged each other, my father had started giving us all very long hugs.

My father prided himself on being a great car parker and yet the week before he died he didn’t seem to care how he parked. In hindsight it’s clear that something had changed.

I knew it but didn’t say anything.

You ask yourself, what could I have done?

What should I have said? Could I have reached out in a way that I didn’t? Could I have said, as we say now, “Are you OK?”

I reflect on my own conduct the night before my father died, when he asked if I could help him polish his shoes before he left for a dinner at my brother’s school.

I remember as a self-absorbed 20 year old the petulance and rudeness with which I waived away the opportunity to help my father, a man who so often helped me, and not a day goes by that I don’t regret it.

Suicide, they used to say, is a victimless crime, but they never count the loved ones left behind.

In the past 20 years we have changed our approach to suicide, depression and mental health.

And while there has rightly been a focus on the mental health of adolescents and young people, we must remember that people suffering at other stages in their lives are equally important.

And sadly the number of older people taking their own lives is increasing – my own father was fifty five.

In these past 20 years, we have spent millions on mental health and suicide prevention. Every government has tried – but despite all the good will, it is a fight we are losing.

In my own electorate we have had more than 100 people take their own lives in the last eight years. And across Australia eight people die by suicide every day.

All this shows that government money alone will not solve this epidemic. Treating depression as purely a medical issue is not working.

Rather we need to rebuild caring communities where people know and notice the signs and acknowledge the people around them.

Where we ask “Are you OK?”, or more directly “Are you contemplating suicide?”

And we need to create the conditions where those who are thinking about suicide feel comfortable enough to ask for help.

Through my work in this place, I want to help empower Australians to build a greater sense of community.

I have seen active engagement in community combat loneliness and enable people to see a world outside themselves.

In a society where people are more pressured and more isolated than ever before, active engagement in community fosters civility, courtesy and understanding, virtues that are too often undervalued and supplanted by anger.

There is a role for government in supporting organisations and individuals that reach out to the socially isolated in our community, even in the face of continued rejection.

And there is a role for government in fostering innovative solutions that address suicide prevention, depression and mental health – enabling communities to learn from what has worked and connecting those efforts across our country.

I want to acknowledge the Prime Minister’s personal interest in suicide prevention and the leadership he and the Health Minister took in devising the National Suicide Prevention Strategy.

As a member of this House I want to do what I can to help pierce the loneliness, the desperation and the blackness that people who suffer depression feel.

During my time here I will always be an advocate for better mental health policy.

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