Suicidal behaviour indicates deep unhappiness but not necessarily mental disorder. It is true that the rate of suicide is much higher in people experiencing a mental illness. Suicide is three and half times higher in those with a mental illness than the general population. And some conditions are more strongly linked to suicide than others. The two most related are depression and bipolar disorder, followed by substance use disorder and then anxiety disorders.
But it is also true that around 180 000 Australians who either think about suicide, plan or attempt suicide or do take their own life each year do not have a diagnosed mental health condition. It may be a bit more complicated and unique than that. There may be an illness of some description that has not been identified or discussed with those of us left behind. Or they may have, for example, experienced issues with their sexuality, felt they were a failure for not performing to their own or their parents’ expectations. Or sometimes we just won’t know.
Whilst anyone can be affected by the threats of suicidal thoughts, some of us are more at risk than others, just because of who we are. This includes the men and the young people and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Those of us who live in rural and remote communities and who are from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. If we have attempted suicide or self-harm before or have been bereaved by suicide our risk increases. Suicide is also five times higher in people who are divorces, separated or widowed, and higher in those who have never married. And not surprisingly, suicide rates are also higher when we are not working.
Many of us can be at risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviour. We may or may not be experiencing a mental health condition. The point is, it doesn’t really matter. Assessing a person’s risk for suicide is not an exact science. We can’t just base it on where an individual fits based on certain categories because there is not one single category that a person affected by suicide fits into. There’s way too many. So instead, let’s just ask them. Maybe start with – are you okay? I’ve had that question in my head all day for some reason.