By Jaelea Skehan, Director Hunter Institute of Mental Health
Over the next week we will be putting a spotlight on suicide, and more importantly, what we can do to contribute to the prevention of suicide and its impacts.
The theme for World Suicide Prevention Day this year is ‘Take a Minute, Change a Life’ – a great theme that links those two days of action.
Based on my own research, I know I will: speak about 150 words; take 100 steps; my heart will beat 54 times; and I can eat 2.5 pink iced donuts – yes I went above and beyond for this research!
When we look across the globe and add our minutes together, then we know a lot happens. For example, in one minute: 58 aeroplanes will take off around the world; 116 people will get married (note - none of those are same-sex couples from Australia); 144 people will move to a new home; 243,000 photos will be uploaded to Facebook; and over 7 billion human hearts will beat.
But globally, in one minute, at least one person will die by suicide.
We know from Australian data that over 3,000 people will die by suicide each year and over 65,000 will make a suicide attempt. This means that each day 175 people in Australia will attempt suicide and 8 people will die. Each of these events has deep and serious impacts on family, friends, colleagues and community members.
At times, the problems we face together can seem so big and so overwhelming, but every minute is an opportunity to do something. To do something that can make a difference to your own life or the lives of people around you.
Here are just some of my suggestions about things that can be done in a minute that can change a life, but you may have others you’d like to add to the list.
Pay attention to how you are travelling and notice if there are any ‘clunks’. If we were driving a car and it started to make a ‘clunk’, many of us would get it checked out immediately – we might ask a mate who knows something about cars or take it to a mechanic. But often when we experience a ‘clunk’ in ourselves, the feeling that ‘something is not quite right’ we tend to ignore it and hope it will go away. Don’t ignore it. Take a minute to tell someone or make an appointment to have it checked.
Pay attention to ‘clunks’ in others. Again, if we were driving in a friend’s car and it started to make a ‘clunk’ many of us would notice immediately and say something. But often we feel less comfortable being so direct if we notice a friend of family member is not quite themselves. We can be fearful of saying the wrong things or not knowing how to respond. But the most important thing is to trust your gut instinct and if you are worried about something, or have noticed a change in their behaviour, reach out and ask if they are OK.
Learn how to ask RUOK? Having a conversation can change a person’s life – but the courage is in getting the conversation started. That takes less than a minute. Once you have the courage, follow the four steps to an effective conversation:
Reach out to people who have been impacted by suicide in some way. Often when people have been sick (e.g.: a bad flu), when a family member is seriously unwell or they have had a death in their family, people will reach out in some way. Often we will help out with practical things, like bake them some food, to show care and concern. But when people are struggling with suicidal thoughts or they have lost someone to suicide – people can often stay away for fear of saying the wrong thing. Don’t stay away. If you would normally bake a casserole, then bake a casserole. If you would usually send a card, then send a card. If you would usually make a phone call, then make a phone call. Showing people they are not alone and that you care can make all the difference.
Start a conversation in your workplace. If your workplace doesn’t have policies and procedures that include suicide prevention, or if you have never had training on this topic, then raise it as a concern. We spend much of our time at work and the workplace can be a really important setting for addressing this issue. Schedule a meeting to discuss it – that takes less than a minute. If you want further information you can go to – headsup or check out Superfriend or Mates in Construction.
If you have children – talk to them about suicide. Don’t allow our film and television programs or social media to be the only go-to place for our teenagers to get information about suicide and suicide prevention. Find out what they know and open up the conversation. If you need tips, you can go to Conversations Matter, or check out ReachOut or headspace.
Learn about why words matter when we talk about suicide. Certain language that we use can alienate members of the community. Our words matter when communicating about suicide, so if you are someone who is talking about these issues on social media, or talking publicly about suicide prevention then check in with Mindframe on preferred language.
Call out stigma and discrimination. Any groups or individuals who are stigmatised or discriminated against because of their cultural background, because of their mental illness or because of who they choose to love are at increased risk of suicide. How we treat each other and talk about our differences matters.
If you work in the media, you can learn about responsible reporting on suicide by visiting the Mindframe website, which provides access to up-to-date, evidence-based information to support the reporting, portrayal and communication about suicide and mental illness.
Get involved in suicide prevention activities locally. There are lots of opportunities to join with others to address this issue at a local level. If you are in Newcastle, we ask you to get involved in the first national trial of an all of community, all of system suicide prevention initiative called LifeSpan.
Our connection to others is what builds us up and keeps us strong. Having people sit beside us when times are good and when times are bad can make all the difference. Making the decision to do this takes only a minute.
So this week I encourage people to reach out and connect – with their community, with services, with people in their lives.