Suicide awareness: Why we need to talk about it

It has been the most taboo subject of them all, long considered something too serious, too dangerous, and too wrong, to talk about.  

But that’s changing. 

Now, we’re being urged by campaigns like World Suicide Prevention Day, to see suicide for what it is: a health issue that needs to be part of public and private conversations.  

This is good news. With suicide being the leading cause of death for Australians between the ages of 15 and 44, it’s certain that something has to change. 

Health professionals and research outcomes are encouraging us to talk more openly about suicide, whether we’ve had thoughts relating to it, or we’ve known someone who has died by suicide, or we work in a sector that has a high rate of risk. 

Beyond Blue reports that first responders in Australia are twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts than the general Australian population. They say that one way to help, in addition to providing practical supports, is creating a culture where suicide can be openly discussed. This is something we all need to work towards to give each other the vital social support that can help everyone’s mental wellbeing. 

There are positive signs that this open approach is helping. New statistics show that increased mental health awareness has meant that suicide rates haven’t increased during COVID-19. Awareness campaigns have grown, and stories of lived experiences are being shared more widely, with a reflective rather than a shaming tone. In a recent news story out of New Zealand, for example, the daughter of a man who died by suicide says she believes keeping quiet about it only makes it harder for people to reach out for help. 

While we used to be concerned that talking about suicide may be harmful, we now know the opposite. 

What we know now is that we need to talk about suicide so that we can see what the risks look like, and so we know how to talk to and support the people in our lives who are at risk. We need to talk about it so that support services can become better and so that, if we find ourselves struggling, we know how (and who) to ask for help.  

We need to talk about it to break the taboo that has kept people silent for too long. 

How to have those conversations 

Feel nervous bringing up the topic of suicide with your friends, family or workmates who might be struggling? That’s okay: most people find it a difficult subject to raise. Here are some tips: 

  • If you’re worried about someone you know, it’s okay to ask them directly, ‘Are you having thoughts about suicide?’
  • Many of us think that asking a question like that will put the thought into someone’s mind, but research shows it’s more helpful to talk about it than to ignore the idea. You won’t put someone at risk by asking them about suicide.
  • If someone in your life admits to thinking about suicide, your role is to listen. If you think they’re in immediate danger, call 000.
  • Help them find professional support: encourage them to make an appointment with their GP or call a mental health helpline (see below for numbers).
  • It’s okay for you to call on professional help, too: having those conversations and worrying about someone in your life can feel challenging.

If you or someone you know needs support, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.