Each year, more than 65,000 Australians attempt to take their own life. More than 2,500 die by suicide – about 7 people every day.
While suicide accounts for a small proportion of all deaths in Australia, it causes more loss of life than road accidents and homicides combined.
Suicide may be prevented. Starting a conversation with someone who is struggling is a crucial first step toward preventing a suicide.
“Talking about suicide is never easy,” says the Chair of beyondblue and former prime minister, Julia Gillard, in a new statement about suicide prevention. But you don’t have to be a health professional to support someone at risk.
“You just need to be a person who is prepared to have the conversation. As a nation, we need to work together to reduce the number of suicides in our community,” says Ms Gillard.
If you or someone you know is at immediate risk of harm, call triple zero (000). You can call Lifeline on 13 11 14 for crisis support or if you are thinking about suicide.
In time for R U OK? Day on September 13, here are answers to some frequently asked questions about suicide – and tips on how to talk to someone who’s at risk.
How will I know if someone is suicidal?
People sometimes assume that suicide is sudden and happens without warning. While it can happen that way, usually a person has previously tried to convey their distress to someone else. Or they have shown signs of feeling suicidal, such as feeling hopeless or lonely, withdrawing from family and friends or misusing alcohol or drugs.
What can I do to help?
Everyone can help when it comes to suicide prevention. If you notice a person showing signs of suicidal thoughts, or if you think someone you know or care about is not behaving as they would normally, start a conversation. Try following R U OK?’s steps:
- Ask, “Are you OK?” Be relaxed, friendly and concerned, and be specific (e.g. “You seem less chatty than usual. How are you going?”)
- Listen. Take what they say seriously and try your best not to interrupt. Don’t judge their experience but acknowledge that things are tough for them. Encourage the person to explain further (e.g. “How long have you felt that way?”) and show you’ve listened by repeating what you’ve heard in your own words.
- Encourage action. Ask questions such as, “What have you done in the past to manage this?” and “How would you like me to support you?” If the person has been feeling distressed or depressed for more than 2 weeks, encourage them to see a health professional.
- Check in. Pop a reminder in your calendar to call the person in a couple of weeks – or sooner if they are really struggling. You could say, “I’ve been thinking of you and want to know how you’ve been doing since we last chatted.” Stay in touch – showing genuine care and concern can make a real difference.
What if the person doesn’t want to talk?
If the person doesn’t want to talk or says they’re ‘fine’, try not to criticise or be confrontational. Tell them you’re still concerned about changes in their behaviour and that you care about them.
Offer to help if they need to talk another time, or ask if there is someone else they would rather confide in.
To find a service that may help the person, or you as a caregiver, check out this list on R U OK?.
Will I be putting the idea of suicide in their head?
No. There is no evidence that asking a person if they’re having suicidal thoughts is harmful.
By chatting openly and honestly, you’re helping the person take their first steps towards getting the help they need.
Where to find more information and support
If you need help, information or counselling support for yourself or someone you know, contact any of these organisations 24 hours a day, 7 days a week:
- For crisis support and suicide prevention services, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
- Suicide Call Back Service provides free, professional counselling (1300 659 467).
- Chat with a trained mental health professional at beyondblue (1300 22 46 36).
- MensLine Australia offers counselling to men on 1300 78 99 78.
- For confidential counselling for children and young people aged 5 to 25, call Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800.
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