Suicide is the leading cause of death in Australians aged between 15 and 44 (ABS, Causes of Death, 2015). Latest studies show that these statistics are the highest that they have been in over 10 years. Approximately 8 Australians will end their lives every day. This equates to around 2-3 every hour. Out of this, it is estimated that for every death by suicide there are 30 attempts (Lifeline Australia, 2017).
Suicide is not a crime, and for a lot of people it can be harmful to say that people ‘commit suicide’.
We need to start talking about it in a way that shows understanding and compassion to the fact that many people experience suicidal thoughts (beyondblue, 2017).
How to talk about suicide
Avoid stigmatising terminology such as:
- committed suicide
- successful suicide
- completed suicide
- failed attempt at suicide
- unsuccessful suicide.
Use appropriate terminology such as:
- died by suicide
- ended their life
- took their life
- attempt to end their life.
When someone expresses that they are experiencing suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self-harm, it is important to consider that this is an uncomfortable conversation, but it is very important to have. It’s not always about keeping someone happy, it’s about helping them.
It is OK to ask someone if they have thoughts about ending their life, or if they have a plan to do so. It can encourage conversations about safety planning and can also show someone that people are listening and caring.
The following are some phrases that may assist to engage in a conversation about self-harm/suicide:
- “You haven’t seemed yourself lately, is everything OK?”
- “Would you like to talk to me about what’s happening to you? I’m worried about you”
- “It’s OK, but you know you can talk to me if you ever need to”
- “Take your time, I understand that this is hard to talk about”
- “Do you have a plan to end your life?”
- “How are you feeling about that? How’s that affecting you?”
- “Don’t think that you have to go through this alone, I’m here for you if you need it”
- “It sounds like the last few months have been really terrible for you, tell me more about that”
- “What have you tried already? Have you been through something like this before?”
- “How can I support you? Can I help you see a doctor?”
It is important to remember that if someone does not want to see a health professional, then it should not be a condition for your support. Let them know that professional help is available when they are ready. Talk to them about any barriers they have that may prevent them from accessing help.
If someone is not open to discussing things with you, consider if there is someone that they might be more open to talking to. Accept that they may not be ready to talk about this, let them know that you are a person that they can speak to if they need it. If someone does not talk about their concerns, you can focus on staying in touch and doing activities that might make them feel less alone.