It’s a word that makes people uncomfortable.
It still carries a stigma of fear, sadness and, for some, even shame.
If we were more able to talk about the ‘s’ word openly we could help each other deal with isolation, depression, anxiety and provide support and a road to recovery.
Have you guessed?
Suicide kills almost twice as many Australians as the national road toll each year.
More than 3 million Australians are living with depression and/or anxiety today.
Of those people, more than half will not seek help.
While we can talk about the number of people dying on the roads and suffering and dying with breast and prostate cancer, as soon as suicide is mentioned, many of us look for ways to change the conversation. It can make us uncomfortable because we may be afraid, embarrassed, or feel out of our depth.
World Mental Health Day is all about raising the awareness of our engagement with those illnesses that affect our mental state. By being willing to talk about our own experiences, or situations we have known where other people have been affected by anxiety, depression, and, yes, suicide, we can remove that stigma, and open the way for people to let us know when they need help.
Suicide is something that many people consider as a way to make their emotional pain stop. Some people feel suicide is the only way they can escape their situation.
It can be daunting to ask someone if they feel suicidal, often for fear that the person may say “yes”. Then what?!
OK, if there is someone you know who seems isolated, depressed, overwhelmed, or behaving differently to their normal self, find an opportunity to ask them if they are having thoughts of suicide. It’s important not to beat around the bush, but clearly ask.
Don’t start off by saying “ You’re not thinking about doing something silly, are you?” Show the person you respect them and care about how they are feeling by saying something like “ Are you ok? I’ve noticed you are under a lot of pressure/ feeling low/ aren’t participating in things at the moment. Are you feeling suicidal?” or “Are you thinking about harming yourself?”
If the person isn’t suicidal, they simply say “No”, and are usually clear that that isn’t an option they think about. They do not feel offended and the conversation moves on quite naturally after that.
If the person says “Yes”, it is often accompanied by a sense of relief that they are able to talk about how serious their pain is, and the first baby step on the way to keeping them safe.
If you do know someone who is suicidal, stay with them, or arrange for someone else to be with them until you are able to get professional assistance from a doctor, counsellor or other mental health professional. Call Lifeline anytime on 13 11 14 if you need support with this.
Many people worry that asking the suicide question may put ideas into the person’s head. According to Lifeline, it is simply not the case.
It’s a question that Lifeline telephone counsellors are trained to ask each caller as part of their mission to achieve an Australia free of suicide.
“Are you thinking about suicide?” Ask the question, have the conversation. You may just save someone’s life.
Vanessa Steele, ThoughtMatters counsellor and Lifeline Telephone Crisis Support
Vanessa Steele: counsellor, mum, partner, blogger... listening and learning every day.