Why we need to talk about suicide

The aftermath of suicide impacts irrevocably on families, friends, and community.

More than 3000 people a year end their own lives in Australia and that figure has been increasing with valid concerns that suicide rates could rise due to COVID-19.  This leaves us facing a possible increased suicide rate of between 750 and 1500 annually, in addition to the 3000 plus lives that are lost to suicide already every year.

These figures are tragic and shocking to most of us who read about them, and a nightmare for those directly affected and often leave us asking, who or what is responsible?

The answers inevitably are extremely complex and varied.  It’s too easy for us to think that suicide is tragic and there is nothing we can do about it. 

There are some very simple things to help improve the situation.   

Be aware of and look for warning signs that someone may be thinking about or planning suicide.

Factors that may contribute to suicide include:

  • Trauma or stressful life events
  • Mental or physical illness
  • Substance or behavioural abuse
  • Poor living circumstances

By contrast, there are protective factors that make us more resilient and can reduce suicidal behaviour such as:

  • Supportive social relationships with family and friends
  • A sense of purpose and control
  • Community engagement and involvement
  • Access to good health and wellbeing services and effectively seeking help

Conversation:

Most people are afraid to ask if someone is feeling suicidal as they imagine this might encourage it to happen. In fact, the opposite is true. By starting the conversation, you can help them get the help they need. If you’re not sure where to start excellent resource links are noted below and are available from both Lifeline and The Black Dog Institute.

Warning signs include:

  • Saying things like “it would be better if I wasn’t here” or “I want out” or “I want to stop the pain”
  • Making comments about being hopeless, helpless, or worthless
  • Having morbid thoughts and always talking or thinking about death
  • Clinical depression – deep sadness or grief, loss of interest, drinking and sleeping disorders that get worse.
  • Tempting fate and engaging in risky behaviours
  • Losing interest in people and things they once cared about
  • Sudden, unexpected switch from being very sad to being very calm or appearing to be happy
  • Talking about suicide or killing themselves
  • Tying up loose ends, putting affairs in order or visiting or calling people to say goodbye

Don’t make assumptions:

Suicide is a preventable cause of death, so it’s important to start a conversation with someone you’re concerned about. There now seems to be a prevailing assumption that all who take their own lives have some form of mental illness. In fact, 75% of all suicides come “out of the blue” in that the person had no previous diagnosis or interaction with mental health provision. Don’t think “oh they’re not the suicidal type” there isn’t a type. It can happen to anyone.

Ask questions and communicate:

Be direct and don’t be afraid to ask whether they are thinking about suicide or attempting to end their pain.  When people are in crisis, they often can’t see a way out.

If you can stop them from trying suicide this may provide an opportunity for them to begin recovery before the crisis point.  Be direct and don’t be afraid to ask whether they are thinking about suicide or attempting to end their pain.  When people are in crisis, they often can’t see a way out.

Listen stay and get help

Listen with an open heart to the person you’re worried about, it may well encourage them to open a conversation and this will give you both an opportunity to discuss what is happening for them.

Take what is being said as serious, don’t leave them alone, check they are safe and get assistance. 

If the person is not in immediate danger, encourage them to get help and seek support and more information as the person needs support to work through their problems.

Conversation and follow up:

Always give some-one a reason to hope, follow up and check in on the person often, letting them know that no feeling stays the same all the time.  No-one feeling stays the same all the time, showing

Things will not stay this way; they can get better. Tell the person that although you don’t know how they feel, no single feeling stays the same all the time, let them know you want to help them get through this. Let them know that the crisis will pass. There’s help available so they can resolve their problems and feel better again.

Remember showing up shows that you care and may well make a difference. 

It is also important for you to have a supportive network and to look after yourself, it is also important that the right professional people are aware of what’s going for both yourself and the person you are concerned about. 

If you are at all concerned contact a medical practitioner, Lifeline on 13114 or call 000.

Sources and references include:

For resources about discussing suicide, visit the Conversations Matter website.

https://www.lifeline.org.au/about-lifeline/lifeline-information/lifelines-suicide-prevention-strategy

https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/resources-support/suicide-self-harm/facts-about-suicide-in-australia/

Causes of Death’, 26 Sep 2018, Australian Bureau of Statistics,

http://www.abs.gov.au/Causes-of-Death/Causes of Death’, 26 Sep 2018, Australian Bureau of Statistics,

http://www.abs.gov.au/Causes-of-Death http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/131056/1/9789241564779_eng.pdf?ua=1&ua=1 http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0089944

 070520 – Joint Statement – COVID-19 Likely to Lead to Increased Rates of Suicide and Mental Illness.pdf (149.22 KB)