About six years ago, I woke up in a Sydney psychiatric facility beside my then 17-year-old son Tim who had made an attempt on his own life.
While I had more than 20 years of experience working in public policy, business and consulting, my family’s experience and Tim’s recovery have driven me to devote the next chapter of my life to stopping suicides.
Now, as the CEO of Lifeline Australia – the country’s largest crisis support and suicide prevention service – I understand better than most the importance of listening with love and care; something that Lifeline’s 4000 incredibly kind-hearted telephone volunteers have done on the phones for more than 50 years.
Their unconditional positive regard and compassion has saved thousands of lives.
With more than a million requests for help received by our 13 11 14 crisis line (24/7) and nightly online Crisis Support Chat service this year, we know that hope, connection and a sense of belonging are key barriers to suicide.
However, with recent ABS data showing that 2864 Australians – a 10-year-plus high – took their own lives in 2014, it’s clear that we as an organisation, a health sector and community need to do more and better. This means better understanding the multi-dimensional nature of suicide and taking a more targeted approach to stopping more unnecessary deaths.
We believe we can do this through technology innovation, greater public awareness, local delivery and old-fashioned care and compassion – what the national charity has been doing for more than 50 years.
Here are five things that we are doing as an organisation to make a difference when it comes to suicide prevention.
Since the telephone became ubiquitous in people's homes in the 1960s and gave rise to our 13 11 14 crisis line, Lifeline has been innovating to reach more Australians. Over the past year, about 45,000 Australians have sought help from our nightly online Crisis Support Chat service and, in FY17, we will begin developing a text-based crisis service. With the Internet and our devices now immersed in almost every aspect of our lives, we believe it’s important that we harness the digital world for the good of our emotional world.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide prevention
Lifeline is about to launch its National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Strategy. The strategy will state our commitment to working with and supporting people impacted by the deep roots of Indigenous suicide that are economic disadvantage, cultural dislocation and, most importantly, racism. At the core of the strategy is empowering communities from the inside out; if we take the chance to deeply listen – with open hearts and open minds – we may well find a practical and positive way forward to reduce Indigenous suicide.
Meeting gaps in the health system
With health services not meet the ongoing and complex needs of many Australians, there are many who frequently turn to Lifeline’s 24/7 services. We believe we can play an even greater role in an integrated health system, and are seeking to provide a support service for people leaving the health system after a suicide attempt; a time when people are very vulnerable to further suicidality.
Our activities are guided by Lifeline Research Foundation, which works with leading researchers across Australia and the world to ensure we take an evidence-led approach to suicide prevention. This is key in understanding the multi-dimensional nature of suicide – such as high risk demographics, locations, professions – and how our organisation can tailor our services accordingly.
Education and community training
As well as our national services, Lifeline’s community-based Centres across the country run local programs and initiatives to help target specific community needs. Our world-class mental health first aid and suicide prevention training programs upskill and empower communities to stop suicides.
My two key messages you can take away from this article in terms of either help seeking or helping:
If you think someone you know may be at risk of suicide, it’s important to ask the question: ‘are you thinking about suicide?’. By asking directly and unambiguously, it shows you care and will actually decrease their risk because it shows you’re willing to talk about it.
If they say 'yes', they are suicidal, listen to them and allow them to express how they are feeling. Don’t leave them alone. Stay with them or get someone else reliable to stay with them. Then work to ensure they get appropriate professional help from a GP, crisis service or psychologist. If the person’s life is in danger, call the emergency services.
For 24/7 crisis support and suicide prevention services contact 13 11 14 or visit lifeline.org.au/gethelp.
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