Today is World Suicide Prevention Day.
Without doubt, suicide is the most tragic consequence of mental illness. For many people with a mental illness, and their families, the fear that they will take their own life can be ever-present. For others, the suicide of a loved one comes out of nowhere and those left behind can be left with a crushing guilt that they should have done more to prevent it. Mental health professionals spend a lot of time assessing how likely it may be that their patients and clients will take their own lives, and making judgment calls about whether people need to be hospitalised in an attempt to protect them from themselves.
Over 3000 people take their own lives in Australia each year – this equates to more than eight deaths by suicide each day. By way of comparison, around 1400 people die in transport accidents each year. Deaths by suicide in Australia occur among males at a rate three times greater than that for females. However, during the past decade, there has been an increase in suicide deaths by females. The suicide rate amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is more than double the national rate. In 2015, suicide accounted for 5.2% of all Indigenous deaths compared to 1.8% for non-Indigenous people.
Looking at deaths by suicide does not paint a full picture of the tragedy. For every death by suicide, it is estimated that as many as 30 people attempt to end their lives. That is approximately 65,300 suicide attempts each year in this country. And it is estimated that at some point in their lifetime 2.1 million Australian adults have had serious thoughts about taking their own life.
For those among us who have never contemplated suicide, a drive against something as basic as the human survival instinct is incomprehensible. Some may consider those who have taken their own life to be ‘cowards’ who have ‘taken the easy way out’. Absolutely nothing could be further from the truth. Suicide is the last resort for people who have exhausted all other avenues for relieving their pain and suffering. And in doing so have overridden their very basic and primal instinct for survival.
We can all play our part in preventing the tragic impact that suicide is having on our community. Like with mental illness, there are a bucket load of commonly held misconceptions about suicide or self-harm that can prevent us from recognising when someone is actually at risk.
Findings from a nationally representative sample released today by Suicide Prevention Australia have indicated that Australians have mixed attitudes and behaviours towards people who die by suicide and an inaccurate understanding about suicide and its prevention.
Over the next week, Hope Street Cards will be separating the fact from the fiction around suicide with you. If we can debunk the myths that surround such tragedy and change the way we think about suicide we might just be able to change the way a tragedy from suicide can unfold. If we can learn to understand the distress and suffering that is happening for those we love and care for, we might just be able to change someone’s life. And improve all our lives.
As always, talking and learning about suicide is so important but it can bring up some really tough emotions, particularly on days like today. Please take care of yourself and reach out to a trusted family member, friend or one of the suggested crisis lines below if you need to talk about how you’re feeling.
Lifeline 13 11 14 www.lifeline.org.au/gethelp
Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467 www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au
Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 www.kidshelp.com.au
MensLine 1300 78 99 78 www.mensline.org.au
Myth 1: Talking about suicide gives people the idea to do it.
In the survey mentioned above, almost 20% of respondents thought that talking about suicide increased the risk of a suicide occurring and an additional 35% admitted that they didn't know.
Research has repeatedly shown that asking about thoughts of suicide does not increase the rates of suicide. I reckon I have asked close to nearly all of my clients questions about suicide on multiple occasions and whilst it was somewhat anxiety-provoking at first (for me), none of them have ever flinched at the question or acted as a result of the conversation. Deciding that death is the only way out of pain and suffering is a drastic step that runs counter to every survival instinct we have. It is not a step that someone decides to take just because they heard someone talking about it.
Rather than encouraging suicidal behaviour, asking someone about suicide directly opens the channels to talk openly and honestly about the problem. Given the widespread stigma around suicide, most people who are contemplating suicide may not have had this opportunity or do not know who to speak to. This can provide an opportunity for people who are suicidal to feel listened to and a forum to identify what is happening for them. Discussing suicide can save lives. It can open the door for someone to get professional help.
So, let’s take an interest in those around us. Let’s look for changes. If we notice things that are of concern or a little different, perhaps in their energy or demeanour or they’re talking of helplessness, let’s ask if they are doing okay. The very best thing we can do to prevent suicide, is to raise the issue with those we might be concerned for. No one will take their own life just because you have a conversation with them about it. They will most likely feel that someone cares. And sometimes this may be the life line they need.