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Talking about suicide and separating fact from fiction

A recent Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) report showed that the suicide rate in Australia is increasing. 3,128 people took their own lives over the reporting period, an increase of 9.1 per cent. It is estimated that there are also up to 30 suicide attempts for each actual suicide.

Suicide is not something that usually gets discussed socially or at the family dinner table. Understandably, it’s an unpleasant topic. However, there may come a time when someone you know is feeling suicidal, or a suicide is affecting your or someone you care about.


Suicide is an important issue

Suicide is a serious issue. In fact, it’s the leading cause of death among people aged 15-44. Even so, it may be that you feel uncomfortable discussing it, or believe that talking about it can be harmful.

There may be different reasons for this. Your upbringing and beliefs about mental health probably affect how you feel about a topic like suicide.

For example, in some families, mental health is not discussed often, if at all. This is despite the fact that one in five Australians  experience a mental health condition each year and one in two will do so during their lifetime. Mental health conditions are common, yet for a variety of reasons, people may believe it is a source of shame, embarrassment, or is something to hide.

Religion may also affect how people view suicide. Since suicide is essentially forbidden in major religions, people may be wary about discussing it.

Fear, or concern that simply talking about suicide could make an existing situation worse, may also be a factor.


Myths and facts: talking about suicide

It is understandable that you may not want to discuss something as difficult and unpleasant as suicide. However, as mentioned, you may find that someone you care about is thinking about suicide, or that your life has been affected by a suicide.

You may wonder whether talking about suicide is a good idea, or whether this will make the situation worse or better. The perceived stigma of suicide especially can make some people feel it’s not ok to talk about suicide.

The truth is, talking about it can be very helpful. In fact, talking about it can make you or the other person feel much better.

Here are some common questions that people have about discussing suicide. Knowing the answers can help you reach out to someone who needs help.


Can asking someone if they are feeling suicidal make them want to take their own life?

No. You cannot make a person end their own life by showing them that you are concerned. However, you should speak up if you are worried. You can ask the person directly if they are feeling suicidal, or you can ask if they have been thinking about suicide.

Talking about suicide openly and honestly allows them to express how they are feeling. It can also help them feel less isolated. It is crucial that you are not judgemental to the other person. Take your time to listen to what they say, be respectful of their feelings, and don’t push back (e.g. don’t say “you’re being crazy”) on what they have to say.


Are there warning signs that someone may be suicidal?

People thinking about suicide usually show clues. If they are feeling suicidal then it’s because they are distraught and overwhelmed and there may be signs that they are feeling this way.

This can take a number of forms. Often this is a change in behaviour. It might be physical, or it could be in how they say things conversationally or show their emotions and feelings. If you are concerned, here is a list of common suicide warning signs to look out for.

Most importantly, treat the matter seriously. If it turns out they are not feeling suicidal (they could be going through a rough period), then that’s a good outcome. If they are feeling that way, then talking about it may help them feel better about their situation.


Am I to blame for their suicidal feelings?

Another person’s suicidal thoughts are not your fault. Suicide is a highly complicated issue and there are many things that can contribute to a person’s risk. The feelings and thoughts of a suicidal person are based on things that are usually not under your control. For example, how they feel could be based on their thoughts about stressful events in their life or how they feel about the future.


If someone talks about suicide, will they follow through with it?

If someone is talking about suicide or self-harm they are probably reaching out for help. It could mean that they are seriously considering it. If you need to talk to someone, whether it’s about your own feelings, or those of someone else, you can call 1300 096 269 and speak to a professionally trained CAREinMIND counsellor. If it is an emergency, call 000.


Do people who feel suicidal always feel that way?

Having suicidal thoughts does not mean you or someone else will always feel that way. People go on to live long and healthy lives all the time after their outlook or life circumstances change. Quite often this can happen because they got help.


Are people diagnosed mental disorders the only ones who are suicidal?

It is true that many people who attempt suicide also have a diagnosed mental disorder. However, not everyone who is suicidal has a mental disorder. Indeed, the great majority of people experiencing a mental disorder of some kind do not show suicidal behaviour.


Is suicide an act of selfishness?

Suicide is often referred to as a selfish act. It’s worth considering that many people who attempt suicide do so because they feel they are a burden. They may actually believe that their family and friends will be better off without them. A person who is feeling suicidal may feel hopeless and believe that their situation will never improve. Again, speaking to them can often help.


Concerned? Talk to a professional counsellor on 1300 096 269. It’s free to people in north, western and central Melbourne and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Want to know where else you can get help? Find out how to access additional community support.


The CAREinMIND blog is delivered by On the Line. The views in each post do not necessarily reflect those of North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network.