With Suicide Rates Trending Upwards, What Can We Do To Help?

There were 3128 suicide deaths in Australia in 2017, according to the ABS Causes of Death report released on Wednesday.

This is a nine per cent increase on last year and the second time since 2015 that more than 3000 people in Australia have died by suicide.

The rate is the equivalent of 8.6 deaths by suicide in Australia every day.

Of those who died, 75 per cent (2348 people) were male and 25 per cent (780 people) female. Suicide (or death from intentional self-harm) is the 10th ranked leading cause of death for males.

Suicide was the leading cause of death among people aged between 15-44 years, and the second leading cause of death among those 45-54 years of age.

Suicide accounts for a high proportion of deaths among younger people. There were 98 deaths of children between 5 and 17 years of age. Nearly 80% of the child suicides were aged between 15 and 17.

Regional urban areas experienced the highest increase in the number of suicides.

Everymind suicide prevention program manager Marc Bryant reminded people that people, families and communities were behind the data released. He says,

“Every life lost to suicide is a life that is valued and missed.”

Suicide Prevention Australia CEO Nieves Murray says people who die by suicide are more than just a number – they’re our mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, friends and colleagues.

Ms Murray warns against becoming discouraged. She says,

“What these numbers show is that suicide is a growing public health concern for all Australians. As hopeless as these numbers seem, however, there is hope.

We must use this data to strengthen our resolve. To each take personal responsibility for preventing suicide.”

The spike in the number of suicides in Australia has prompted calls for the establishment of a national target on suicide reduction.

Lifeline chairman John Brogden called on the federal government to set a national target to achieve 25 per cent suicide reduction over 5 years.

Brogden emphasised the impact suicide has on those left behind. He said,

“Behind every number released today is a person who is cared for and loved, with family and friends left devastated by their loss.”

The ABS has identified the value of providing data about factors associated with deaths by suicide. This is the first time this information has been made available.

Data about factors associated with deaths by suicide was released for the first time this year.

Of the people who suicided 43 per cent (1345 people) had depression; 29.5 per cent (922 people) had alcohol and drug issues; 17.5 per cent (547 people) had anxiety, and 14.9 per cent (466 people) had alcohol in their bloodstream at the time of death.

Cancer was a factor for a quarter of people over the age of 85 who took their own lives.

The reasons why people die by suicide are varied and complex.

So national suicide prevention efforts need to focus on helping people understand why someone would want to end their life. But before this can happen, people need to recognise that suicide prevention is a shared responsibility. Everyone has a part to play.

beyondblue provides information and support to help everyone in Australia achieve their best possible mental health, whatever their age and wherever they live.

Their website is a valuable resource for anyone wanting to learn about suicide.

The following information relates to what we should look out for in someone who might be going through a hard time and are thinking of harming themselves.

Suicide prevention starts with recognising the warning signs and taking them seriously.

Warning signs might include:

• A sense of hopelessness or no hope for the future.
• Isolation or feeling alone – “No one understands me”.
• Aggressiveness and irritability – “Leave me alone”.
• Possessing lethal means – medication, weapons.
• A negative view of self – “I’m worthless”.
• Drastic changes in mood and behaviour.
• Frequently talking about death – “If I died would you miss me?”.
• Self-harming behaviours like cutting.
• Risk-taking behaviours – “I’ll try anything, I’m not afraid to die”.
• Making funeral arrangements.
• Giving things away (clothes, expensive gifts) – “When I’m gone, I want you to have this”.
• Substance abuse.
• Feeling like a burden to others – “You’d be better off without me”.
• Talking about suicide – “Sometimes I feel like I just want to die”.

Warning signs are like a red flag. They alert us to the fact that our friend or loved one is AT RISK. They cause us to stop and reflect:

What is motivating the behaviour?
Is the behaviour a departure from the norm?
Is the person able to talk openly about the changes in their behaviour?
Does the behaviour have a specific purpose e.g. ‘a cry for help?’

We need wisdom and discernment to know the magnitude of the risk and how to respond.

It is important we speak up when we know someone is struggling. Don’t assume someone else is actively involved.

Suicide Prevention Australia CEO Nieves Murray says,

“To reduce suicide rates in Australia we need everyone to talk safely about suicide every day. We want people to know, you can talk about suicide and we’re here to help.”

Talking openly about suicide was once seen as harmful. It was thought that such exposure would encourage it. But that’s a myth. There is little evidence to show that the code of silence around suicide prevents people from harming themselves. In fact, it could do more harm than good.

Talking about suicide helps to create and promote awareness, to strengthen the fight against suicide and to create change for a better life.

The goal of any discussion about suicide is to demystify the topic. Suicide is a significant public health concern and is worthy of our attention.

There are many ways we can start a conversation about suicide. Let me share two examples:

1. Talking with family and friends

Often the best time to have these types of discussions is in the most normal, mundane environments. Although it might vary for everyone, an example could be while having a coffee or going for a walk.

It can be difficult to know how to start such a conversation. Sometimes it comes down to a simple question, “What are your thoughts on suicide?” or you might share a personal anecdote of an encounter with suicide.

2. Social media

Social media has become fundamental in the way many people and organisations communicate and share opinions, ideas, and information.

There is increasing evidence that the Internet and social media can influence suicide-related behaviour, both negatively and positively.

Social networking sites for suicide prevention can facilitate social connections among peers with similar experiences and increase awareness of prevention programs, crisis help lines, and other support and educational resources.

I use my Instagram account brickard2018 to encourage thought and discussion about suicide. I share quotes that have challenged my thinking and add a brief commentary. You may want to check it out sometime.

As Everymind director Jaelea Skehan says,

“We need to work together to amplify messages of prevention, resilience, and recovery so that everyone can play their part in suicide prevention and help one another through moments of struggle.”

Author: Bruce Rickard

Reflections on Suicide and Staying Alive: My son's suicide changed everything. I felt an obligation to understand why anyone would want to end their life. My regular blog posts explore the causes and prevalence of suicide and what is needed to sustain a healthy mind and a hope-filled future.

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