We can all play a role in suicide prevention

Today, September 10, is World Suicide Prevention Day - a day when globally we raise awareness of how suicides can be prevented and promote the supports available to those in distress.

These types of public health awareness campaigns help bring focus and attention to the issues, build a groundswell of support, and help get suicide prevention prioritised by our political and community leaders.

Some facts about suicide. Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians between the ages of 15 and 44. In 2020, we lost 3139 Australians by suicide and three in four of these were males. For every suicide death, it's estimated there are 30 suicide attempts, with females attempting suicide more often than males.

Suicide is a complex phenomenon, and every individual situation is unique. Factors that may contribute to someone taking their own life include dealing with stressful or traumatic past or present events, death, separation, loss, bullying, mental illness, alcohol and drugs, and life-changing events, family history and relationships, work, education, and social pressures.

We are still trying to understand why males disproportionately die by suicide. What we do know is that recognising the many strengths men have, valuing positive masculinity and nurturing men's relationships with themselves and those around them will help reduce suicides.

Sadly, suicide rates are also high among groups who experience more disadvantage, discrimination, disempowerment, and disconnection - especially Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, people who identify as LBGTIQ+, people living in rural and remote places, and people who experience social isolation.

Tackling social issues and building thriving, connected, inclusive, empowered communities will contribute to suicide prevention.

So, what can you do to play a part in suicide prevention? We all have the potential to create positive impact through our actions, no matter how small or big they may be.

One small step would be to learn more about suicide and how to recognise and respond to signs someone may be thinking about suicide. The Illawarra Shoalhaven Suicide Prevention Collaborative offers free online QPR (stands for 'question, persuade, refer') training to Illawarra community members via our website (www.suicidepreventioncollaborative.org.au/training).

Undertaking suicide awareness training will help ready you to reach in, let someone know you've noticed when they don't seem to be travelling well, and listen with compassionate curiosity. This can open the door to hope in someone who may be consumed by hopelessness, help release dark feelings of being trapped by their problems and be the first step of a healing process.

Looking after your own mental health and wellbeing is also an important step to prevent suicide. As the saying goes, "you can't pour from an empty cup", or in other words, you can't help someone else if you're feeling too low or depleted. The past couple of years have brought unprecedented disruption and turmoil, and we can all benefit from being kind to ourselves. Find realistic, practical actions you can take to improve your personal sense of wellbeing like taking a walk in the sunshine, getting enough sleep, or keeping alcohol consumption to healthy levels.

The intensity of public conversation about suicide at this time of year can be hard for people who have been directly impacted by suicide. For those who have lived through their own suicidal crisis, it can remind them of some of the most challenging times of their life. For those currently experiencing suicidal distress or supporting a loved one through crisis, talking about RuOK? and awareness raising can feel inadequate in the face of immediate challenges. And for those who have lost someone they love by suicide, feelings of grief may intensify.To all those who find this time hard, support is available. We have many wonderful services in our community and caring people who will listen without judgment.

To all those who find this time hard, support is available. We have many wonderful services in our community and caring people who will listen without judgment. Crisis lines are available 24/7 (Lifeline 13 11 14, MensLine 1300 78 99 78) and Wollongong Safe Haven, a place to talk to suicide prevention lived experience or peer workers, is open 2-10pm from Wednesday to Saturday (55 Urunga Pde, Wollongong). For young people, eHeadspace offers free phone and online support and there's no waitlist.

If you know someone personally impacted by suicide, check in with them today and offer a listening ear or some company. Every small action adds to the bigger movement to prevent suicide.


Thank you to the Illawarra Mercury for inviting Jo Riley, Executive Member of the Illawarra Shoalhaven Suicide Prevention Collaborative to share her thoughts for this opinion piece.