The focus of World Suicide Prevention Day 2015 is Preventing Suicide: Reaching Out and Saving Lives. If we are serious about preventing suicide we need to sign off on the following.
1. Acknowledge the gravity of the problem:
Australians are knowledgeable about the road toll, understand the scourge of cancer, feel passionate about the abuse experienced by women and children in the family home and even have a rough idea of the lives lost to shark attacks off our shores. But how many of us are aware that on average, seven Australians take their lives every day? Does that number shock you or disturb you?
Former NSW opposition leader and Lifeline Australia chairman John Brogden wants Australia’s suicide rates declared a national emergency. He says, “In the 10 years since I tried to take my own life at least 23,500 Australians have died by suicide.
Commenting on the crisis support offered by Lifeline he notes,
“This year Lifeline will receive an extraordinary one million calls from Australians in crisis and at risk of suicide. Five years ago we received less than half that. Every day 120 callers are at high risk of suicide. Twenty times a day we assess the risk as so high we keep the caller on the line and have emergency services trace the call and go to the scene.”
Statistics globally are equally disturbing. The International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) writes
According to the recently released World Health Organization (WHO) report: Preventing Suicide: A Global Imperative(2014), over 800,000 people die by suicide across the world each year. The report notes that this estimate is conservative, with the real figure likely to be higher because of the stigma associated with suicide, lack of reliable death recording procedures, and religious or legal sanctions against suicide in some countries.
2. Reach out to those at risk of suicide:
Many communities and workplaces have embraced R U OK Day. It takes courage to ask someone how they are travelling. But what if someone were to reply that they were struggling and were feeling life wasn’t worth living. Would we panic? Would we tell them to get over it? Would we call the police? Many of us are ill-equipped to offer support. We don’t know the risk factors and the warning signs for people contemplating ending their life.
The WHO report cited above offers the following explanation as to why someone would want to end their life.
“What causes suicide? Why do so many people end their lives every year? Is it because of poverty? Unemployment? The breakdown of relationships? Or is it because of depression or other serious mental disorders? Are suicides the result of an impulsive act, or are they due to the disinhibiting effects of alcohol or drugs? There are many such questions but no simple answers. No single factor is sufficient to explain why a person died by suicide: suicidal behaviour is a complex phenomenon that is influenced by several interacting factors − personal, social, psychological, cultural, biological and environmental.”
Scott Chisholm, founder of the Collateral Damage Project, says,
“When someone is feeling suicidal, it is often less about wanting to die and more about feeling that they have run out of options and hope. The fear and shame surrounding these feelings will keep people isolated and cut off from accessing help, which allows their fear, hopelessness, and embarrassment to grow bigger and bigger. Asking someone and talking about suicide can feel scary. Breaking the silence, however, sends a powerful message to someone that it is okay to talk about what they are feeling and thinking; that they are not alone and that you care.”
3. Support those bereaved by suicide:
I know what it is to have lost someone I love to suicide. My son, Adam, took his life in 2011. Psychologists refer to ‘shadow grief’. Suicide casts a lengthy shadow over your life. It is a misunderstanding to think that someone gets over their grief. The loss, the hurt, the sadness don’t go away. You learn to assimilate your loss, to live with it. You rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered.
Many people bereaved by suicide feel alone and isolated. The silence that surrounds the issue of suicide can complicate the grief experience. It is wrong to assume that someone who has experienced a great loss wouldn’t want to talk about it. As one writer aptly put it, “Where does grief untold go?”
There is a thought that talking about the death of someone you love to suicide only reignites the pain. I can attest to the pain but it is a necessary part of the grieving. It is unexpressed pain that becomes toxic.
In their book “Grieving the Loss of Someone You Love” Raymond Mitsch and Lynn Brookside write,
“Silence is a curse to injured, hurting people. Silence tapes up our wounds before they have been thoroughly cleaned so that they are sure to become infected.”
The International Association for Suicide Prevention offers this helpful insight.
“Suicide is devastating for families, friends and community members who are left behind. They may experience a whole range of emotions, including grief, anger, guilt, disbelief and self-blame. They may not feel that they can share these overwhelming feelings with anyone else. Therefore, reaching out to those who have lost someone to suicide is very important.”