This was not a planned post at all, in fact, I was half way through writing a different post when I saw a news alert that just kind of stopped me in my tracks. It was an article from The West newspaper stating that in 2019 WA lost their highest number of people to suicide in a decade. In the 365 days of 2019, 418 West Australians felt they had no other choice than to end their lives.
The statistic hits home pretty hard when I realised that two of those 418 people were friends of mine. It’s very hard to see people you care about to be reduced to a statistic, even more so when it was preventable.
I started this article not knowing where it was going, what point did I want to make? How was I going to make those statistics into something useful and educational? How was I going to make people think about these rates and not just shrug their shoulders with a sigh not knowing the answers?
Suicide prevention. I believe we can all play a role.
Know the signs. Know what you are looking for in someone with mental health issues. We are good at masking our mental illness but there are often a few things that you can recognise that may act as warning signs.
Please note that if you don’t have the mental or physical capacity to take on someone else’s problems then you shouldn’t. Put yourself first. But you can offer support via finding the correct services and people to help.
In terms of recognition there are things that people may say, for example:
- “They’re better off without me”
- “There’s no way out of this.”
- “I just can’t take it anymore”
You know the kind of speech I am talking about. The things that someone might say that makes you raise your eyebrows with concern. Don’t just drug your shoulders and sweep it under the rug, ask questions, offer help, advice. If you can’t give someone the help that they need offer them the support to find someone who can. There are phone lines, text options, there are people who can help, help them find that assistance.
Talking about suicide is a common cry for help. Many people shrug off this talk as a cry for attention, and maybe it is. But give them that attention. They want people to help them but don’t know how to ask. Offer support and if you can’t, point them in the direction of information and resources to be able to find someone who can.
If someone you know suffers from mental illness, check in on them from time to time. Especially in the case of big events happening like a death in their family, a divorce, something that would affect anyone, will probably affect someone with mental health issues in a bigger way. A simple “how are you coping with .....” is sufficient. Let them know that you are there for them.
If you notice someone go from being completely withdrawn and disconnected to coming back out of their shell- they could be feeling better, or maybe they’ve made peace with their decision and they’re saying goodbye without actually saying it. You may want to whole-heartedly believe that they’re going through a good patch but there is a difference between feeling good and feeling at peace.
In the same way, if you notice someone withdrawing from things that once made them happy, alarms bells should be ringing. Avoiding social interaction like saying no to going out all the time, quitting their sporting teams, etc. if they are abandoning things that once brought joy, question it.
I hear you though- what should you do? How do you approach this subject? It can be uncomfortable and awkward, but it is important. It could potentially be the difference between cringing through a conversation and crying at a funeral.
- as I’ve said above, if you don’t feel like you are able to take this on board, if you feel out of your depth, you are okay to ask someone else to help. Someone who you know and trust will be able to help this person through their feelings and direct them to professional help.
- It may be your first reaction but avoid saying things like “this is stupid” or “imagine how your family would feel” it’s not helpful and chances are, they’ve already thought about it at great length.
- You are allowed to say “are you thinking of committing suicide?” That question alone is not going to push someone over the edge and it will allow you to gain a better understanding of where they are mentally.
- It’s easier to begin the conversation with “you haven’t been yourself lately, are you doing okay?” Then it is to flat out ask someone if they’re going to kill themselves.
- If you’re going to judge someone during this time it is better to raise your concerns with someone else who may be better able to help. Judgment isn’t needed in terms of any mental illness, so please take yours as far away as possible.
- It’s okay to not get very specific answers to your questions, they will probably be very vague and not want you to go probing around in their businesses. Ask questions but respect their boundaries.
- Watch your body language and tone of voice. We see it, we know.