Adelaide, let's talk...
Adelaide, we need to have a conversation and it might be an uncomfortable one. Suicide in our society is spiralling out of control, and that’s not an exaggeration. The number of Australian’s that take their own lives each year far outweigh the national road toll. The statistics are staggering. In South Australia in 2015, 12.8 people per 100,000 suicided. And sadly, preliminary statistics show that this figure increased in 2016. Suicide isolates people from friends and loved ones. People bereaved of suicides often talk about losing contact with lifetime friends, relatives, even their own partners. The grief is extraordinary and indescribable to those who have never felt it. Feelings range from sadness, anger, guilt, shame, depression, isolation, confusion, bewilderment and sometimes relief (for long-term carers). A person closely bereaved by a suicide is four times more likely to make an attempt of suicide and it’s not uncommon for a family to have multiple suicides, or multiple attempts, in the years following a suicide. Every eight hours in this country an everyday Australian takes their own life, and in the aftermath, the lives of the people who knew and loved them are changed forever.
The Psychology of Suicide
In so many ways, suicide is unique. People that have survived a suicide attempt describe an immeasurable pain that they can no longer bare, or an unseen weight that makes them feel as if they are always seconds from drowning. It’s not about death. It’s about ending pain. It’s about stopping the feelings of hopelessness and loneliness. People who experience suicidal ideation often feel they have burdened those around them, that they are better off removing themselves because at that time, they truly believe that it’s the right decision. It’s important to note that suicide is not always a planned action, many suicides are spontaneous. There are no warning signs and often those left behind never find an answer to why it happened.
What makes suicide so difficult to address is the sheer complexity of each incident. The key risk factors for suicide that have been identified are:
a history of mental health
drug and alcohol abuse
victim of bullying or cyberbullying
unexpected job loss
high stress employment
death of a family member or partner
sudden changes in behaviour (including withdrawal, outbursts of anger, sadness and irrationally emotional), and
We need to understand it, talk about it, educate ourselves and confront it.
And remember, that there can also be no signs whatsoever. These risk factors are tricky because they are so wide and varied, and because any one of us, or someone we know, is likely to experience one or more of these factors during their lifetime. So how can we tell if someone we know is at risk of feeling suicidal? We talk to them. We ask questions. We listen. Communication is key. It’s a simple strategy, but it can also be very difficult to do. We, as a community, need to become familiar with suicide.
How we fight back…
Combating suicide is a team game and we are all players. As individuals, we need to swallow our pride and be honest with ourselves and our friends about how we are really feeling. And as friends and loved ones, we need to be strong enough to outstretch our arms to those who approach and confide in us. We don’t have to have all the answers and we don’t need to fix it ourselves. But we do need to find them someone who can help, and we need to continue to support them through their illness and until they have healed, just like we would a flu or broken bone.
So let me ask you this, would you be offended if a workmate/friend/partner/sibling or parent asked you if you were ok? If they asked, how are you really feeling? Would you be judgemental of them or think they are weird? Or would you appreciate the concern? If you wouldn’t be offended, then why would someone else? And if they are, well, maybe that is concerning in and of itself.
Many were shattered by the recent news that Chester Bennington, lead singer of the band Linkin Park, took his own life. This was a talented and successful man, who by all reports was highly respected and deeply admired. His celebrity status and untimely death made headlines around the world. And while the tragic deaths of those we idolise in the entertainment industry shouldn’t be overlooked, we cannot ignore the reality of what is happening right on our own doorstep.
We need to embrace the survivors of suicide and those left behind after the trauma of suicide. We need to acknowledge mental illness for what it is, an illness, and support people just as we would a mate that had a knee reconstruction, a relative with cancer or a co-worker with diabetes. We need to stop thinking suicide is something that happens to other people. We need to acknowledge it, we need to be aware of it and we need to communicate openly and honestly with those around us. Through these actions we will unite and turn the increasing effect suicide has in society. But it starts with you. You must choose to stand up and fight with us.
If you or someone you love is in crisis or needs support, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14, the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467, or BeyondBlue on 1300 224 636. If it is an emergency please call 000.