As we look ahead to the new year and reflect on the year that was, it is normal for our minds to start comparing ourselves to others and with the many social media outlets at our disposal, it can be very difficult to avoid! It is important to note that much of the content individuals post on these social media outlets are but a mere snippet of reality and thus it is unrealistic and unfair to place judgment on yourself. In reality, many people across many cultures are struggling with their mental health. This leads us to a difficult topic that is essential that we continue to discuss - Suicide.
It's a difficult word to say and a complex topic to discuss (and read about). The importance of discussing suicide and suicide prevention cannot be understated and having difficult conversations can change lives. Having difficult conversations about suicide is a skill and one that can readily be learned by everyone. The statistics are overwhelming with 8.6 Australians dying every day by suicide, with suicide being the leading cause of death for Australians aged 15 to 44, 75% being males. Suicide rates are 3.6 times higher for Indigenous Australians.
We believe that most suicides are preventable and understanding some of the key risk factors can help to formulate whether to have a tough conversation with someone who may be struggling. These risk factors include:
· Talking about being a burden or feeling helpless
· Withdrawing from friends, family, society, or activities they used to enjoy
· Increased alcohol and drug use
· Uncharacteristic or impaired judgment or behaviour
· Change in mood (increased anxiety, depression, mood swings, and anger)
· Feeling like there is no reason for living, no sense of purpose, or feeling stuck in life.
If you identify a friend, loved one, acquaintance or anyone who may be struggling, the following information can be vital in understanding their situation in more detail:
· Does the individual have ready access to likely means of suicide?
· Has the individual formulated a suicide plan?
· Has the individual previously been exposed to suicide or suicidal behaviour?
· Does the individual often act impulsively?
· Does the individual have high pain tolerance or an increased ability to endure pain?
· Is the individual fearless about death?
· Does the individual describe visualising death or after death?
· Does the individual have a history of suicide attempts?
Research has indicated that individuals who display these warning signs and risk factors are at greater risk of an adverse event becoming their 'tipping point'. 'Tipping point' refers to an event or series of events that become significant enough to cause emotional distress, leading them to imminent risk. If you notice these warning signs and risk factors, starting a conversation with them is essential.
When talking about suicide and self-harm, it is vital to remain non-judgmental. You don't need to have all the answers, you don't need to solve their problems, and most of the time, the person just needs to feel heard and cared for. Below are some examples of questions to ask if you see your child, friend or loved one may be struggling:
"I have a feeling something is bothering you and I want to make sure you're okay."
" I have noticed a change in your mood. Are you feeling okay?"
"Sometimes, when people find life too overwhelming, they start to think about death so they don't have to feel the pain anymore. Have you ever had thoughts like that?"
Once the conversation has started, it is important to remain calm and compassionate. If the person has had these thoughts, it's crucial to understand if they have a plan. If the individual has a plan, it is essential to act immediately to get that person's professional help. This immediate action should be to call emergency services or if possible to take the person to the emergency department. You do not need to do this alone and it can be helpful to enlist the help of another person whom you can trust.
For anyone who is struggling, the road to recovery can be daunting but a process which you may involve enlisting the support of professionals. The first step can be to talk to your GP about your thoughts and feelings. The GP may then refer you to a psychologist or mental health clinician. While waiting for this appointment, it is important to continue to check in with the person, monitor and validate how they are feeling.
Often forgotten about with someone who has found themselves in the situation of supporting an individual through suicidal ideation is looking after your OWN feelings. Having a positive support system around you can help you to process these feelings. A support system can be a partner, parents, friends, you may even find it helpful to engage your own psychologist. It is never weak to ask for help. Remember, you are not alone in this. There are many resources and professionals who are here to help you through these difficult times and difficult but necessary conversations.
Below are some links that can better help equip you if you know anyone who may be struggling currently with their mental health and well-being: