Why People Don’t Speak Up and Suicide
I always find it amusing these campaigns that pop up to deal with a wicked problem in this case the wicked problem of suicide. Wicked problems are intractable unsolvable problems. Wicked problems go way beyond any possibility of fixing or managing. (http://www.enablingchange.com.au/wickedproblems.pdf). Any simplistic attempt at trying to solve a wicked problem usually makes things worse.
It seems that when people don’t know what to do they turn to marketing in some naïve hope that will bring value in tackling a problem, a wicked problem. The safety industry is classic at this. Faced with the wicked problem of risk the response is marketing campaigns of gherkins, dumb mums, super heroes and meerkats (https://safetyrisk.net/meerkat-safety-can-it-get-more-dumb/). But for god sake, don’t change zero. Don’t change the one thing that drives all this brutalism in the sector. Zero is the foundation for amplifying mental health issues at work but make sure it remains untouched.
All of these marketing campaigns simply demonstrate that simplistic responses to wicked problems don’t work. Yet, the campaigns keep on coming and the core issues are never dealt with. In this way we can keep everything just as it is so that nothing changes.
Recently Victoria Police launched a campaign ‘Let’s Talk About Suicide’ (https://www.bluespacewellbeing.com.au/suicide-awareness) and for this cause they turned to technology to do the trick. With the aid of technology they resurrected a police officer Senior Constable Laurie Fox who had suicide 8 years earlier and brought him back to life in an animation to state that he wished he had spoken up. My god the desperation of avoidance and confrontation is incredible in this campaign and all at the same time appearing to tackle a problem yet underneath doing nothing to really tackle things that manufacture and sustain mental health problems at work.
It’s so easy to run a marketing campaign and look like you are addressing a problem and yes people are lauding this Victoria Police campaign as if it makes any significant contribution to the problem. The campaign is offensive, riddled with guilt and generates and amplifies all of the mythologies associated with suicide without actually tackling the problem, a wicked problem.
At the heart of the wicked problem of suicide is culture. No-one will speak up in a culture of bullying, brutalistic and individualistic behaviourism that is dehumanizing. And if you don’t speak up, rather than projecting blame onto the organisation and culture, blame is projected on the individual, ‘why didn’t you speak up?’ We provided all the avenues for you to speak up (Bluespace and of course and app – Equipt) and yet you didn’t, it couldn’t possibly be that we have the problem not you. This is the message of this campaign – don’t tackle the foundations of the problem just put in some fluffy ad campaign and continue on.
Here we are reminded once again in this video that speaking up takes courage and personal strength and by insinuation if you don’t you are weak and a coward.
And of course, just like the nonsense of ‘safety is a choice you make’ this video holds the same mythology that ‘suicide is a choice you make’. How offensive. How simplistic. How naïve. None of this tackles the wickedity of the problem of suicide. How cheap, how glib and superficial.
Of course, someone wrote the script for Senior Constable Laurie Fox to speak, they put words into his mouth as if they know why he took his own life. How offensive. None of what he is made to say in this video even comes close to what the research tells us about suicide.
The reasons why Constable Fox doesn’t speak up according to the words put into his mouth just further exacerbates and amplifies all the mythology that surrounds suicide including much of the mythology that is generated around the ‘R U OK Day’ annual performance (https://www.lifehacker.com.au/2019/09/why-im-not-ok-with-ruok-day/; https://www.smh.com.au/opinion/not-enough-the-problem-with-mental-health-initiatives-like-r-u-ok-day-20170913-gygncy.html ; https://medium.com/@jenniehill/why-i-hate-ruok-day-667e53b340e7 ).
If you are interested in learning about suicide as a wicked problem then maybe start with these:
When we understand suicide as a wicked problem we move away from simplistic campaigns, guilt trips and myth making and the endorsing of mythology associated with mental health issues. The more we come at wicked problems as if they are a binary problem then we will simply make things worse and nothing will change.
There are hundreds of reasons and causes why people don’t speak up about many things and they have very little to do with the idea of ‘choice’. One would need to study quite a bit of Social Psychology to get a start on tackling the problem.
The more we perpetuate populist myths about suicide promoted by such marketing campaigns as this ‘Let’s Talk About Suicide’ campaign then the less things will change. Such campaigns make it look like we are doing something when at the source such an approach is cosmetic and a façade of marketing to try and address a wicked problem.