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Hidden in Plain Sight: Suicides on Our Roads

TRIGGER WARNING – The topic discussed in this article may be distressing to some readers. If you feel your mental health or situation could be affected we advise you read no further. If anything in this article causes emotional distress, please consider contacting your GP or hotlines such as Lifeline or BeyondBlue for support.

September 10 marks World Suicide Prevention Day – a day where millions come together on an international scale to reflect and mourn loved ones lost to suicide.

With countless of organisations joining the conversation the day invites people to speak up against the stigmas around suicide and mental health while also serving to offer support and remind others that despite all the challenges, help is available, and living is worth it.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) more than 703,000 people die every year by suicide. That’s one person every 40 seconds worldwide and in Australia – at least eight people every day.

For Australian’s aged between 1 and 14, suicide falls within the top five leading causes of death; for those between the ages of 15 to 44, suicide makes the top three – but there’s still little talk about the growing public health problem and the underlying need for better mental health support.

The reasons for this are often rooted in stigma and moral disdain, which is often heightened when it comes to men. With many people sweeping the problem under the rug, far too many men are falling victim to suicidal thoughts and action.

One unlikely area these thoughts and actions play out? Our roads.

Car speeding on wet road

Studies suggest that between 1 to 7% of road fatalities are actually hidden road suicides.

The numerous variables involved in crashes make determining the suicidal intent of a crash difficult, however, research has shown that men dealing with a history of addiction, mental health issues or life problems, are more likely to drive in an unsafe manner. The feelings and emotions triggered by life stressors can in fact, lead to increased risk taking, culminating in impulsive and suicidal thoughts or attempts on the road.

Coupled with the ease of access to road vehicles, external risk factors available and the ability to conceal suicidal intent as an ‘accident’, it’s easy to see why crashes could actually be suicidal attempts in disguise.

However, the ripple effect caused by one accident is far-reaching, and more often than not, it’s not just immediate family members or friends affected.

This is the case for at least 10 million people in Australia who if not directly impacted, know of someone affected by suicide. For us at Road Sense Australia, that’s our founder and CEO, Michael Fitzgibbins:

“Our organisation was founded because my brother died in March 2005 in a serious road crash… [In that one moment], my mother lost a son, I lost a brother, his daughter lost a father, and he lost his future.

For many years after my brother died, my other brother, struggled with depression, drug addiction and mental health issues, and one day he decided that he could no longer live with the pain, and he committed suicide.”

Understanding the need for road safety education and building a charity that encourages individuals to positively move on from their mistakes on the road is just one example of Michael’s resilience, but not all react in the same way.

Whether it’s a family member, a friend, a colleague, or a neighbour that is affected, the bereaved wake up every day missing a loved one, and not all are able to grow from such loss. Like the aftermath of road trauma, the impacts of suicide are often sudden, far-reaching and long-lasting.

While the reasons for having suicidal thoughts are complex, showing you care or getting help doesn’t have to be. ‘Create hope through action’ by sharing your story, starting a conversation, or simply reaching out this World Suicide Prevention day and every day after, because even small talk, can make a big difference.

Never feel compelled to keep it in. To get support for yourself or someone else, talk to your GP or call:

To find out more about our programs click HERE.

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