Sunday, September 25, 2011

Some positive words about suicide prevention

Over 2,000 Australian lives are lost each year to suicide according to official records, though this number is probably in reality much higher. It is now the biggest killer of people aged 15-24, accounting for one in four of all deaths in this age group. According to the stats, men are up to four times as likely to die this way than women. These numbers provide more than an ample reason for me – a twenty-something male with some insight into this terrible problem – to speak constructively about it.

I admit expressing thoughts about this topic is difficult because suicide is so rarely discussed that I – like everyone else – have not been in the habit of articulating my thoughts about it. Such is the culture of silence around the topic of suicide that even on a blog like mine which is focused on mental health, it was only this week that I decided I should raise the topic in my writing. What prompted me were two national awareness days both taking place this month: R U OK? day and To Write Love On Her Arms day.

A major aim of both events is to raise awareness in our society about the need for more openness in friendships, families, schools and workplaces about the reality of suicide in order to see people receive the help they need.

2010 Australian of the Year, Pat McGorry, has been a leading voice in Australia on the issue of suicide prevention among youth. He said the following in an article he wrote in April this year: "Our lack of conversation around the topic has only endorsed the silence that surrounds our young people who often feel too ashamed, too guilty and too stigmatised to put up their hand and ask for help. They are trapped in a bubble: a cone of silence which neither they nor those around them can easily penetrate."

For those who know something of my story, it is probably not a great surprise to tell you that my life was in danger in the period immediately prior to my admission to hospital in 2004. Like so many young (or for that matter any age) males I was tight lipped about what was going on inside me and I was able to mask things pretty well. Yet the reality was that I, like most people experiencing suicidal thoughts, was dying to tell someone how I felt.

McGorry says "By asking a young person about these feelings we will give them permission to talk, and in most cases they will feel relieved and better able to overcome periods of suicidality. If effective help is provided suicidal urges almost always subside."

This was certainly true in my case. If you'll permit me to use this description, my mind was like a giant infected wound full of toxic thoughts that simply needed to be burst and exposed to the air around it so that the black thoughts could run out of me and into a drain, never to be seen again.

It is worth keeping this image in mind when thinking about this topic. It fits with the "bubble" image that McGorry talks about. And the amazing thing is that you – the friend, the family member, the acquaintance, or even someone you've just met – could be just the person to prick the bubble and let the puss run out. It is as simple as being aware of those around you, and not being afraid to ask if someone is feeling OK.

Here is a relevant song I like by Third Eye Blind