Suicide is one of those topics that not many people like to talk about. But spreading awareness of its existence and the channels for support is critical. If you encounter someone who is talking of suicide it’s normal to feel unsure about how to deal with it, but there is support available.
A global crisis
The World Health Organization estimates that close to 800,000 people die each year from suicide. It is the second leading cause of death for those aged 15-29 and is a serious global health issue.
Additionally, Lifeline reports that in Australia, “the overall suicide rate in 2015 was 12.6 per 100,000 people—the highest rate in 10-plus years.” To put it into perspective, that means there are eight deaths by suicide in Australia each day.
Reading the signs
The admission of suicidal thoughts or tendencies can be agonising for those suffering from them. Historically it has been a taboo topic. And there is still very little discussion occurring around the issue, so it’s difficult to know where or who to turn to. If someone you know mentions suicide, it should never to be taken lightly.
A recent study by Griffith University revealed a majority of those who attempt suicide give either verbal or non-verbal clues or a warning before the fact. It’s critical not to ignore someone who is vocalising suicidal thoughts or displaying certain behaviours.
The Griffith study examined Queensland youths between the ages of 10 and 19, revealing that 50 percent of young suicide victims assessed had experienced a recent stressful life event such as family conflict or a relationship breakdown.
A support system
If you know someone suffering from a mental health condition, you’ll understand that it’s different from caring for a person with a physical health condition. Recovery can vary between individuals and does not necessarily follow a linear path.
The University of Melbourne research on suicide prevention noted that support people (close family or friends) should “offer assistance that those at risk find helpful by listening and talking to them, offering them support, and encouraging them to seek professional help”.
They should also try to assess the level of suicide risk; and keep a check on the safety of the person in question (including removing any obvious threats).
Lifeline provides a number of practical steps for friends or family in providing support:
- ask direct and unambiguous questions – this has been shown to decrease the risk and show the person someone cares
- listen and stay with them, allowing them to continue to express their feelings
- get help even if the person is reluctant, try to book a local GP or psychologist and begin the path to recovery right away.
It is important for support people to stay well and primarily look after their own health. This could be aided with counselling, massages, relaxation exercises, physical exercise or immersion in nature.
Supporting someone who is at risk of suicide primarily involves very good listening and communication skills. Let the person know you are concerned and that you’re there to help them get professional support.
Reinforce that there are always other options to suicide – but don’t assume they will discover them on their own.
If you or someone you love is in crisis or needs support right now, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467. If you believe someone is about to enact a plan, call 000.
Young people aged 5 to 25 years can call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800
You can also visit communitiesmatter.com.au for information and resources on how to get help and give help.