The 10th September 2020 is R U OK? Day — Australia’s national day to connect with others and make a positive difference in someone’s life. It’s also National Suicide Prevention Day.
Every year, more than 3,000 Australians — 8 every day on average — make the devastating decision to end their lives. Australia’s death toll from suicide is a growing concern. More people die from suicide than road accidents each year, and suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians between the age of 15 and 44.
Certain sectors of the population are more vulnerable to suicide. For example, the suicide rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is up to twice as high as the general population.
There is also an increasing concern that the suicide rate may become even higher due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to some experts, surging rates of anxiety and depression, economic decline, job losses, and isolation due to lockdown and social distancing may lead to a 25 per cent increase in Australia’s suicide rate every year for the next five years.
To help reduce these shocking figures, it’s important to raise awareness of suicide risk and boost mental health services and support for those who are at risk of becoming suicidal.
It’s also important to support those who have lost someone close to them to suicide. Grief is never easy, but when a loved one takes their own life, it can trigger even more powerful emotions and be difficult to cope with.
Suicide Risk Factors and Warning Signs
Most people who die by suicide will have had suicidal feelings for several months or years before they take action.
While most will hide their feelings, some clues and behaviours may indicate that someone is considering ending their own life. These warning signs include:
- Talking about suicide or saying things like “I just want it all to end.”
- Talking about being a burden eg “Things would be better if I wasn’t here.”
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Changes in sleep patterns — having trouble sleeping or sleeping excessively
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs
- Giving away possessions
The reasons behind suicide are complex and have many causes. Depression is the most common mental condition associated with suicide, but some people who choose to take their own lives may have shown no obvious signs of being depressed. Other factors that put someone more at risk of suicide include:
- Previous suicide attempts
- Other mental health conditions such as anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia
- Substance abuse problems
- Serious physical health conditions and chronic pain
- Stressful situations such as a divorce or job loss
- Long-term stress due to external factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic
- A close relationship with someone who ended their life or attempted suicide
- History of childhood abuse or trauma
- Traumatic brain injury
Where to Get Help if You’re Feeling Suicidal
If you’ve been having suicidal thoughts or you’re struggling with depression, you may feel like things will never get better. But there is always a light at the end of the tunnel.
If you feel like you want to act on your suicidal feelings, seek help immediately. Call 000 and say you’re feeling suicidal or go to your local hospital emergency department. If you don’t feel able to do this, promise yourself that you will wait 24 hours before doing anything and find someone you trust to talk to such as a doctor, friend, teacher or family member.
It’s not always easy to open up about how you’re feeling. But try to be honest if someone asks if you’re OK. Chances are, they already suspect you’re struggling and need support.
There’s no shame in feeling suicidal and no shame in seeking help. No matter how alone you feel, there is always someone who cares and is ready to listen to your feelings.
Some people find it easier to talk openly about their suicidal feeling with someone they’re not close to. If this is the case, consider contacting a mental health support organisation or a professional counsellor.
It can also sometimes be easier to write down your feelings rather than talking about them directly. You could email a friend or seek support in an online forum such as the Beyond Blue forums.
How to Help Someone Who May Be Suicidal
If you’re worried someone might be at risk of taking their own life, or if someone is talking about suicide, it’s important to take this seriously.
If they are in immediate danger, do not leave them alone. Call their doctor, triple-zero (000), or a crisis support service such as Lifeline Australia (13 11 14) or Suicide Call Back Service (1300 659 46).
If you don’t believe there’s an urgent risk to life, the best thing you can do is talk openly and offer your support. But before you ask, “Are you OK?” make sure you’re ready and prepared to listen and offer help if they say they’re not OK.
The message of this year’s R U OK Day is that there’s more to say after “R U OK?” As well as helping them to find support from a doctor, crisis support service, or counselling service, make sure you check in again regularly to see how they’re doing.
Don’t worry if you’re not sure exactly what to say. Listening and showing you care are the most important things you can offer. You can use the resources at ruok.org.au for more advice on what to say and how to support someone who may be feeling suicidal.
Remember, it’s also important to take care of your own mental health. Providing support to someone who is suicidal can feel like a great load, so make sure you have someone to talk through your feelings with, too.
If you’re worried about someone but feel like you’re not able to support them, approach someone else in their support network with your concerns.
Psychological Health Care in Perth offers professional counselling services to help cope with mental health challenges such as depression and suicidal thoughts. If you need help coping or want psychological support services, contact us today for a chat.