Suicide is a major issue in our society. According to World Health Organisation estimates, over 800,000 people die by suicide yearly. Here in Australia in 2016, 2,866 Australians took their own life and another 65,000 people make an attempt at suicide per year.
Globally, suicide takes more lives than homicide, war and terrorism combined and in Australia, it takes more than twice the road toll, but it doesn’t generate anywhere near the column inches that these topics do. One possible reason may be that many of us feel ill-equipped to talk about it with people we care about.
The truth is we all have the power to reduce these shocking statistics and it doesn’t need cash, qualifications or political clout. So what is it?
Two words – Listening and Support.
If each of us can provide a supportive, friendly, caring and non-judgmental ear to our family and friends, we can make a big dent in the numbers of people ending their life each year.
Studies indicate that a strong network of support is one of the best ways to help someone who’s struggling and it can help people at many different stages of struggle – from suicide to loneliness, depression, anxiety and more.
How to help: Ask, listen, encourage action and check in.
R U OK? have a simple model that’s easy to understand – see their page here for steps to help someone.
Create a welcoming and safe space where the person feels cared about, accepted, supported and understood. Letting your loved one know you support them and asking open-ended questions can help get the conversation rolling.
You can be the person that might just save a life. You just need to start chatting with a line as simple as “I am worried about you because you haven’t seemed yourself lately.” Then just listen. Don’t try to convince them they’re wrong or minimise their feelings. Often, people who are struggling don’t need advice; they just want to talk with someone who cares.
Check out this page for some tips on how to start a conversation about mental health or suicide.
Don’t worry if you feel like you won’t know what to do if the person responds that they aren’t doing OK, what’s important to remember is that there is no one ‘right thing’ to say. You can’t make a person suicidal by showing that you give a damn. In fact, giving someone the chance to discuss their 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 a way for people to document how to keep themselves safe. Having a solid plan may help people feel more prepared and in control about the possibility of future negative thoughts. More information .
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 at any time. 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 help from a professional – a doctor, a counsellor or a hospital. Don’t try to go it alone.
If you’re worried about a mate, helping them to get professional support is vital. Some people find telephone or online counselling helpful – 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 trained to support people in crisis and are able to keep you and your friend or family member safe.
Check out these links for more information:
If you need someone to talk to, you can call our MensLine Australia counsellors on 1300 78 99 78, or register for online chat.
 Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2016) Causes of Death, Australia, 2014. Catalogue No. 3303.0. Belconnen, ACT: Commonwealth of Australia.