The power of talk - and sharing problems

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Columnist Peter Leith continues his series of true short stories, tackling a disturbing topic from the days when he was a counsellor in Melbourne.

More than 30 years ago, a survey was conducted on road deaths in country Victoria.

One of the findings was that “single-vehicle, single-male occupant driver fatalities are, very often, suicides”.

The report went on to describe a typical scenario: “Frequently, little or no alcohol was involved … The victim was driving home after being ‘in town, for a meeting or, often, for sports practice’.”

The methodology was tragically similar. “It appears that, on a straight stretch of road, the vehicle veered off the road and crashed into a tree, killing the occupant.”

At that time, I worked for a ‘human services’ organisation in Melbourne. I was a simple domestic violence counsellor, but most of my colleagues – both men and women – were highly qualified and widely experienced psychologists and counsellors. 

We discussed the report at length.

One senior psychologist, a woman, had come from and still had relatives in a nearby country town of some size. It had experienced two ‘single-vehicle, single-male victim’ road fatalities in the preceding 12 months.

My colleagues set about devising a two-hour, three-session counselling program for men in rural areas suffering depression.

With the assistance of the local CWA and footy club, our colleague arranged to trial the program in the local football clubrooms to select volunteers.  

Much thought went into the selection of the two-person counselling team. Ultimately, a very experienced 56-year-old family counsellor and a 40ish-year-old fairly well-known country footballer were chosen.

My role was to drive the pair to and from the country town … and help to hand out the coffee beforehand and the supper afterwards, and drive the ‘shrinks’ home.

Driving home, we all commented on how many of the group participants had commented that it was “good to be able to talk about stuff”.

Up to the time I changed jobs, two years later, none of the eight men we met had ‘driven into a tree’.

Do you have a story or an observation for Peter? Send it to [email protected] and put ‘Peter’ in the subject line.

Does this story resonate with you?

Readers seeking support and information about suicide and depression can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14. For more information on treating depression, please visit Beyond Blue.

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Written by Peter Leith

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