By Kim O’Neill, CEO, On the Line
As I’ve discussed in a recent piece for World Suicide Prevention Day, suicide is a major issue facing our society. The last official data released in 2017 shows a staggering 3,128 people took their own life and another 65,000 people made an attempt in that year alone.
Alarming as these figures are, they don’t reflect suicide’s true impact on our community. The flow-on effect of suicide and attempted suicide on family, friends and others in people’s social networks has a substantial impact and research from Suicide Prevention Australia tells us that each suicide death can impact hundreds of people.
Communities affected by suicide experience their own grief, pain and suffering as a result of their loss. When we look at the impact of suicide on our communities in this light, it’s easy to understand why so many people and organisations are working together to find ways to better understand the issues surrounding suicide and reduce the number of people who are dying in this way.
The curse of stigma
Many people still consider suicide taboo to talk about and avoid talking about it because they don’t understand or know what to say. While the relationship between suicide and mental illness is correlative rather than causative, 43% of people who died by suicide in 2017 were living with a mental illness. Some research also suggests a link between suicide and the stigma experienced by people with a mental illness.
This same stigma also affects those who have lost someone to suicide or know someone who has made an attempt. People experiencing bereavement or grief due to suicide report higher levels of perceived stigma, shame, responsibility and guilt compared to the sudden natural or unnatural death (Sveen & Walby, 2008) of someone they love.
A lack of understanding about suicide can result in avoidance and uncertainly about how to support people experiencing grief and loss. Many people bereaved by suicide find themselves avoiding discussion of the cause of death due to stigmatised responses which may contribute to a lack of understanding in the community.
What we can do
We all have a role to play in reducing the impact of suicide in our communities: from keeping an eye out for the people in our lives; to direct methods of support and raising awareness of the issue; to raising our voice in support of government action. Perhaps most importantly of all, we need to get informed and talk about it to increase understanding and reduce the stigma that compounds the impact of suicide.
We can all make a difference.
If you have been affected
If you’re one of the many people who has been impacted by suicide in some way, help is at hand.
The Suicide Call Back Service, Suicide Line Victoria and MensLine websites have loads of information to help, check out the links below:
 The Ripple Effect, Suicide Prevention Australia and University of New England, 2016
If there is an emergency, dial 000.