Suicide has long been a taboo topic – we don’t feel we can talk about it.
But with the theme for World Suicide Prevention Day on 10th September being ‘Working together to prevent suicide’, we’re being encouraged to incorporate the topic into our conversations.
Why talk about suicide prevention?
Suicide is the leading cause of death for 15 to 44 year-olds in Australia. In their most recent statistics, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported more than 3,000 deaths by suicide in 2015. The rates are highest among males and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
The flow-on effect is huge; 85 per cent of us know someone who has died by suicide.
Beyondblue’s Dr Stephen Carbone says it’s vital we open up our conversations to the topic, whether we’re dealing with a loss, having thoughts of suicide ourselves, or noticing that someone we know is struggling.
“It’s like depression or anxiety, physical health conditions like cancer or heart disease: it’s important that people become more aware of suicide as a health issue,” says Dr Carbone.
Talking about it increases our awareness as a community, and brings this widespread issue into the public consciousness. “It’s like depression or anxiety, physical health conditions like cancer or heart disease: it’s important that people become more aware of suicide as a health issue,” says Dr Carbone.
“It enables us to recognise what action needs to be taken. On a personal level, it’s about learning about the causes of suicide, the warning signs that someone might be experiencing suicidal thoughts, and strategies or support that you can offer someone who’s at risk.”
Sue Murray, CEO of Suicide Prevention Australia, says we all have the resources to help with suicide prevention in our communities.
“We have eyes to see if people change their behaviour, we have mouths to ask the questions … and we have ears, with which we can listen in an open-hearted, non-judgemental way,” Murray says.
How to talk about suicide
Suicide is arguably a taboo topic in most cultures. Because of this, it doesn’t come up in conversation every day, and it could be daunting to speak about it.
Carbone suggests, “If you’ve noticed that someone you know has become withdrawn, is in a negative mindset or doesn’t seem themselves, you can reach out and ask, ‘Are you okay?’”
“If you’re confident enough to take that a bit further, you can ask directly, ‘Have you been thinking about taking your life?’ or ‘Some people going through this stuff feel like ending their life; are you feeling that way?’”
This is a key message that has been brought to the fore via the ‘R U OK? Day’ held throughout the country each year on 14 September. The aim of this campaign that has gained traction in recent times is to encourage us all to give people the tools (three words: ‘are you okay?’) needed to start a conversation that could change a person’s life.
One of the biggest myths around talking about suicide is that if we bring it up in conversation, we’ll put those thoughts in the person’s head. To the contrary, Lifeline says that asking whether people are okay and other specific and direct questions could actually decrease a person’s risk.
Murray agrees. Talking about it might provide some people with “a great sense of relief for them to be able to talk about how they’re feeling”.
“If people who are feeling vulnerable are supported in this way, they will feel more comfortable in opening up. And once we know how someone is feeling, there is the potential to get them the professional help they need.”
Talking about it might provide some people with “a great sense of relief for them to be able to talk about how they’re feeling”.
And if you’re worried about what words to use when asking someone you know if they’re considering suicide, Carbone has some advice for you: just be your kind, honest self.
“We’ve asked people (with lived experience) what they’ve found helpful or unhelpful; it’s being judged, ridiculed, dismissed or made to feel guilty that they’ve found unhelpful.”
“Maintain a hopefulness and just be genuine.”