So we all know suffering breeds in silence, right? And we know that one of the most silent forms of suffering is suicidality. Well, more so throughout history, because today there is a world out there of research, programs, support groups, direct care services, conferences, helplines and people with a lived experience of suicide, who are pooling together to make this world a more suicide-friendly place. Suicide Prevention Australia represents the vast work in this area. As a human race, we are getting better at understanding what someone needs in a suicidal crisis and we are more understanding and compassionate when it comes to supporting people who are bereaved by suicide, or who are attempt survivors. That’s what I mean by suicide-friendly, and when I immerse myself in discovering the facts and figures behind suicide prevention, I am comforted by this education and preventative action; I am eager to share with my readers everything I am learning.
Because I am an attempt survivor, I take great comfort in knowing that there is unlimited and diverse support out there for people who experience suicide. You only need to scan through the program of the upcoming National Suicide Prevention Conference to see that all facets of suicide are included. I learned about suicide the hard way – by not talking about it and distancing myself from the very support I needed. If you are new to conversations about suicide, consider this blog an introduction to common themes in suicide prevention. Take the knowledge into your round table discussions about life, death and rebirth, and familiarise yourself with this challenging but very important topic. Your openness and your willingness to be, at the very least, non-judgemental of this part of the human condition, serves our collective journey to de-stigmatise and prevent suicide from happening at all.
If you happen to contemplate suicide privately, then before I encourage you to seek support, please trust you have arrived at a non-judgemental space that offers permission for that contemplation, with the assumption and the prayers that you are able to respond to your needs and avert the urge to self-harm. (At the end of this blog is a list of support services you may find useful. Also check out my page of resources to see how other people overcome mental health challenges.)
So what’s worth learning about suicide and how can you proactively take this knowledge into your lives?
Groups at risk of suicide
According to existing data, certain groups within Australian community are at higher risk of suicide. These include:
- young people
- Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander people
- lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, other sexuality, sex and gender diverse people (LGBTI)
- people in rural or remote communities
- people experiencing mental illness
- people who have previously attempted suicide or who engage in self-harm
- people bereaved by suicide
It’s really important to remember that even though a person may fall into one or more of these groups, it does not mean they will chose to take their own life. It simply means that based on current data, people in these groups are at higher risk of suicide than the general population.
What may lead to suicide
The most recent theories about the types of suicide and different motivations to suicide suggest that it may be due to one or a combination of the following:
- a direct result of a mental illness
- an outcome of reckless behaviour (suicide is often associated with alcohol or drug-taking, or may result from life-threatening activities)
- an attempt to end unmanageable pain
- an attempt to send a message or gain a particular outcome such as notoriety, vengeance, defiance or leave a legacy
- an altruistic or heroic act, relieving others of a burden, dying to save another or dying for a cause; and/or
- an expression of the person’s right to choose the manner of their death
Suggested ‘dos and don’ts’ for friends and families
People who deliberately injure themselves are often very distressed and require support and care from family, friends and the community, as well as health professionals. Here are some tips on how to best support and care for someone who self-injures:
- Seek professional help. Don’t allow health professionals to dismiss it as attention-seeking behaviour. It’s crucial to go with the person to a hospital, medical centre of alternative healing clinic to ensure they are treated sensitively.
- Ask the person if they have considered suicide. Always take self-injury seriously and pay attention if the person talks about feeling depressed, hopeless or anxious.
- Take care how you react. It can be distressing to see someone who has self-harmed. Try not to become angry, reject the person or ignore the problem. Try not to take the injury personally. Remain calm and focus on finding extra support or other ways to cope with distress that are not harmful.
- Be non-judgemental. Don’t condone the self-injury. Let the person know you will continue to support them throughout their recovery , and that you are there for them.
- Don’t give them an ultimatum. It can be tempting to demand the person stop immediately, however this can add to their distress and feelings of rejection.
- Listen to the person so that they feel reassured, and let them know the conversation will be treated confidentially.
- Proactively seek support for yourself if you are caring for someone who is suicidal or self-harms, as this is a highly stressful role to be in.
What are the warning signs of suicide
A suicidal warning sign is the earliest indication that someone might be at a heightened risk of immediate suicide. A warning sign indicates that a person is having serious thoughts about taking their own life and may even be making plans to take action. Suicide warning signs may be a cry for help and they can provide a chance for family, friends, associates and health professionals to intervene and potentially prevent suicide from happening. If you notice someone acting strangely or particularly out of character it is important that you talk to them about it. The following behaviours are more common among people who are considering taking their own life:
- threatening to kill themselves
- looking for ways to kill themselves or talking about their suicide plan
- talking or writing about death, suicide or dying (especially when this is out of character for the person)
- expressing feelings of hopelessness
- expressions of rage, anger or revenge
- engaging in reckless or risky behaviours
- expressing feelings of being trapped, like there’s no way out
- increased use of alcohol and drugs
- withdrawal from friends, family and community
- anxiety or agitation
- abnormal sleep patters
- dramatic changes to mood such as feelings of happiness after a long period of sadness or depression
- giving away possessions or saying goodbye to family or friends, and/or
- saying they have no reason for living or have no purpose in life
It is better to act safely, rather than not act at all, if you intuit that someone may be at risk of taking their own life. Enlist the support of others and act quick.
Here are a list of services that will be able to assist with a suicidal crisis or provide further information:
Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
SANE Helpline: 1800 18 7236 www.sane.org
Ministerial Council for Suicide Prevention: www.mcsp.org.au/resources
Mensline Australia: 1300 78 99 78
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Kids Help Line: 1800 551 800
SuicideLine (Victoria): 1300 651 251
*This information was gathered from the Living Is For Everyone fact sheets provided by SANE and the Australian Government of Department of Health and Ageing.
Suicide prevention. Be educated. Be prepared. Be proactive.
And most importantly, be gentle.