By Kim O’Neill, CEO, On the Line
Suicide is a major social health issue in our society. The World Health Organisation estimates that over 800,000 people die by suicide each year, or one person every 40 seconds. In Australia in 2016, 2,866 Australians took their own life and another 65,000 people attempt suicide each year. Hundreds of thousands of people think about suicide.
Worldwide, suicide claims more lives than homicide, war and terrorism combined. In Australia, the suicide rate is more than twice the road toll. Yet we do not offer the same level of attention to this widespread issue that is afforded to these headline grabbing topics. One reason may be that people feel ill-equipped to talk about suicide with family and friends.
The surprising truth is that helping to reduce these shocking figures is something we can all do and it takes no money, expertise or political influence. Ready to hear it?
It’s two words. Listening. And support.
If people are able to provide a supportive, friendly, caring and non-judgmental ear to those they care about, we can vastly reduce the numbers of people who feel so alone and hopeless that they see no alternative but to end their life.
Studies suggest that a strong network of people who care is one of the most powerful ways to help someone in distress. This doesn’t just apply to suicide – the same approach works for people who are lonely, depressed or anxious, and can even play an important role in reducing some of the biggest issues in our society, like violent extremism.
How to help: Ask, listen, encourage action and check in
Our friends at R U OK? Came up with this simple model that is accessible to anyone – see their explainer page here for the easy to follow steps to help someone you care about.
Create a safe space, where the person feels cared about, accepted, supported and understood. Letting the person know you support them, and asking open-ended questions, can help to open the lines of communication.
With just a little guidance on ways to provide helpful listening and support, you can be the person that might just save a life. You just need to start a conversation, for example, “I am worried about you because you haven’t seemed yourself lately.” People at risk often aren’t looking for advice; they just want someone to talk to, someone who is compassionate. Let them know that you are there for them.
Check out this page for some tips on how to start a conversation about mental health or suicide.
People can be afraid to ask someone they know if they are OK because they worry that they won’t know what to do if the person responds that they aren’t doing well. It’s important to remember that there is no one right thing to say to someone. You can’t make a person suicidal by showing that you care. In fact, giving a suicidal person the opportunity to express his or her feelings can provide relief from loneliness and pent-up negative feelings, and may prevent a suicide attempt. Learn more about the damaging myths about suicide here.
Other ways to help
Help create a safety plan
A safety plan is an effective way for people to document how to keep themselves safe when they’re feeling suicidal. Having a concrete plan in place may help people feel more prepared and in control about the possibility of future suicidal thoughts. More information about creating a safety plan.
Encourage use of the new ReMinder app
ReMinder is a self-managed resource for users to adopt as part of their own coping strategy. Reminder helps users create a simple suicide safety plan, which they can access on their mobile device at any time. A suicide safety plan can help to keep clients safe when they are feeling low or suicidal. ReMinder is designed to remind clients of reasons to live and connect them with the people and services who can help during the tough times.
The next step is to support them to get professional help – a doctor, a counsellor or a hospital. Do not try to deal with the situation alone.
If you’re worried about someone, supporting them to get professional help is critical. Some people find telephone counselling particularly helpful, as it’s an immediate, anonymous and less threatening source of support.
In an emergency
If you’re worried for the immediate safety of someone you care about:
- Call 000 and request an ambulance. Stay on the line, speak clearly, and be ready to answer the operator’s questions
- Attend your local hospital’s emergency department
- Call your local Public Emergency Mental Health Service.
Each of these emergency services teams are specially trained to support people in crisis, including people feeling suicidal, and are able to keep you safe.
A final note
The 2018 theme for World Suicide Prevention Day “Working Together to Prevent Suicide” was chosen internationally as it highlights the most essential ingredient for effective global suicide prevention- collaboration. We all have a role to play and together we can address the challenges of suicidal behaviour in our society today.
We all need to look out for people who are struggling. We can check in with them, ask them how they are doing, listen, and encourage them to tell their story. It is about equipping yourself to help yourself and others, and taking time to have those conversations when you notice something has changed. This is what World Suicide Prevention Day is all about. We all have a role to play.
 Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2016) Causes of Death, Australia, 2014. Catalogue No. 3303.0. Belconnen, ACT: Commonwealth of Australia.
If you or someone you know needs support, please reach out to one of our counselling services.
Our professional counsellors are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.