Reach out and smash the silence on suicide

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Suicide is an important issue that affects communities across Australia, including ours in the Hunter.
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TAKE ACTION: The #YouCanTalk campaign aims to spread the word that reaching out and listening can help someone struggling.

Preventing suicide and supporting those affected, deserves nothing less than an all of government, all of service system and all of community response. And while there’s more investment and activity here in Australia than ever before, there is still much progress to be made.

There are many elements to an effective suicide prevention strategy, including a responsive crisis system, available and evidence-based treatment and support, working with the media, and addressing the social determinants that increase distress and risk of suicide.

But part of building a safety net for those at risk, is to develop the capacity of people across our community to reach out and offer support, rather than waiting for someone who is thinking about suicide to put their hand up to ask for help.

Recently seven of Australia’s leading suicide prevention and mental health agencies, including Everymind, joined together to launch a new ongoing campaign – #YouCanTalk – encouraging the community to be part of the national suicide prevention effort. And now, I am asking our local community to get involved.

#YouCanTalk is a direct response to landmark research conducted by the University of Melbourne indicating that Australians wanted to do more to prevent suicide in their communities, but didn’t know how. Over half of the people surveyed believed that only mental health professionals can help to prevent suicide and 40 per cent were worried that talking about suicide might make things worse.

While we have been much better at raising awareness about suicide in Australia, and have a media which is responsive to covering the topic in a mostly safe and responsible way, members of the community are still unsure about how to navigate conversations involving the ‘s’ word.

Sometimes people are fearful of asking “Are you okay?” because they feel ill-equipped if the answer is “No, I’m not”. People can be even more fearful about asking if someone is thinking about suicide, in case the answer is “Yes, I am”.

The truth is, you don’t need to be a trained professional or an expert to support someone going through a tough time. #YouCanTalkis about giving people the confidence to act on observations and concerns, and have the conversation with those they may be concerned about.

Some basic tips for talking to someone you are worried about:

It is better to reach out than avoid the person for fear of getting the conversation wrong. Experts generally agree that asking someone whether they are thinking about suicide is unlikely to make the situation worse or ‘put ideas in their head’.

If you feel uncertain if your friend or loved one may be at risk, ask the question directly – “Are you having thoughts about suicide?” and be prepared for the answer to be yes.

Make the person feel comfortable by listening without judgement or criticism and don’t try to ‘fix’ the problem or talk them out of suicide. Just listen.

Ensure they are safe for now and talk to the person about who else to involve so they can be supported. You can assist by connecting them with other supports and services.Connect with resources and supports that are available to help you navigate the conversation.

While these discussions can be uncomfortable for people, the silence of others can reinforce the isolation, stigma and shame a person may already be feeling. The #YouCanTalk campaign aims to build on work happening across Australia with options for our local community to get involved.

Newcastle is the first ever trial site for LifeSpan, a new evidence-based model for integrated suicide prevention in Australia. Developed by the Black Dog Institute, LifeSpan involves the simultaneous implementation of nine key strategies that have been shown to reduce suicide. There are a range of partners and services working on LifeSpan locally, but there are also great opportunities to get the community involved.

We have a bold vision to train at least 6000 people in our local community in basic suicide prevention skills by 2019. While family and friends do not replace the service and treatment system, we all have a role to play in creating safe and connected communities. You can register for the $10 training online at www.everymind.org.au/QPRtraining

To access a range of national resources to support #YouCanTalk www.lifeinmindaustralia南京夜网.au/youcantalk

For tips on navigating conversations www.conversationsmatter南京夜网.au

If you or someone you know needs urgent support contact Lifeline 13 11 14, beyondblue 1300 224 636, Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467Jaelea Skehan is the director of Everymind

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