PSA: the following article contains information about suicide that may be triggering for some readers. If you [or anyone you know] needs help, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit the Beyond Blue website. For emergencies, please always call 000.
Do you ever ask yourself this question?
Do you ever ask it of others?
What would you say if someone responded with a ‘no, not really’?
What would you do if someone asked you?
I’ve written about the stigma associated with mental illness before, but it’s time to look more closely at the prevalence of suicide in Australia and what we can do to help bring the rate down. RUOK? is a suicide prevention charity aimed at giving those struggling a safe space to ask for help. With a national day each September reminding every one to ask everyone RUOK?…. Let’s see how important this really is.
Mental Health | A Snapshot
The DSM-5 – a diagnostic manual of mental disorders – contains more than 300 individual illnesses. Despite the research in this area, no one can really agree how best to categorise the vast number of recorded mental illnesses. The following are 7 of the most common or ‘mainstream’ types of mental disorders, along with statistics showing how each affects the Australian population, and examples of each:
- 14% – anxiety: social anxiety, and OCD
- 10% – trauma: PTSD, and combat stress reaction
- 6.5% – personality: multiple/split personality disorder, and antisocial behaviours
- 6.2% – affective (mood): depression, and bipolar
- 5% – substance abuse (addictions): alcohol and opioid use disorders
- 3% – psychotic: schizophrenia, and delusional disorder
- 2% – eating: anorexia, and bulimia
Accounting for overlap, the statistics remain that 1 in 5 (20%) of all Australians have or will experience mental illness. The prevalence of these disorders decreases with age, with the 18-24 age bracket being the most at risk for both men and women. Centres like HeadSpace have been created specifically to support this age group, as 75% of mental illness presents itself before the age of 25.
“With mental illness in general, you hide it from everyone anyway because you don’t want to be judged, and are so vulnerable at that age, you don’t tell anyone,” Helen Christensen – Black Dog Institute
Anxiety, personality, and affective disorders have all touched my immediate family, including myself. Having experienced depression for myself, and seen what anxiety and (borderline) personality disorder can do to a person; treatment, support, and understanding are imperative.
Suicide | The Facts
With so many charities – like Lifeline, Beyond Blue, and RUOK? – seeking to lessen the stigma around mental illness, and lower the rates of suicide; it is clearly a national concern. So much so that since 2015, Lifeline has been advocating for suicide to be classified as a national emergency.
200 Australians will attempt to take their own life today.
On average, 8 will succeed.
There is a deep connection between mental health and suicide, with a reported 90% of people who die by suicide having a recorded history of mental illness. According to the WHO, 1 person ends their life every 40 seconds across the globe, and around 800,000 people commit suicide annually. Suicide is among the top 20 leading causes of death globally for all age groups.
For every 2,500 Australians that die by suicide each year, another 65,000 attempt to take their own life. In an Australian report issued in July of this year, suicide is recorded as the leading cause of death for both 15-24, and 25-44 age brackets contributing to 34% and 21% of deaths in each age group respectively. Suicide is also the third most prevalent cause of death in 45-64 year olds.
Just as some groups of society are predisposed to mental illness, others are at higher risk of suicide due to social barriers, attitudes, and beliefs. For example, men are at risk, as are indigenous Australians who are up to five time more likely to commit suicide than non-indigenous Australians.
Boys to Men | Stigma of Suicide
Men are three times more likely to commit suicide than women with a 75% to 25% split, yet are less likely to seek help for mental illness with only 27% reaching out to a health service compared to 40% of women. Differences in education and expectations of girls and boys have coded our society to accept that boys are strong and do not need help, when nothing could be further from the truth. We’re all susceptible to bad days, anger, genetic predispositions, and mental illness regardless of gender expression or identity.
A close friend of mine recently lost a beloved friend to suicide. No one saw it coming. Before he died, he sent his close circle of friends a cryptic message. Larakin that he was though, no one thought anything of it. He was gone before anyone could ask if he was OK.
This is the power of RUOK? Day. It gives us all the chance to say, “Hey, are you OK?” to absolutely everyone in our lives and the opportunity to have an honest conversation that could save a life. Like the example above; someone you know could desperately need to talk about their struggle, but might not be ready to start the conversation themselves. The more we talk about suicide, the less stigma is attached to it, and the more people we can get help and support.
Some other things to remember about suicide to help reduce the stigma for all:
Celebrities | Breaking Down the Wall
Society dictates that celebrities are held in high esteem. The stigma of mental illness and suicidal thoughts is lessening the more celebrities speak out & share their stories. Here is a list of 39 celebrities who have shared their experiences with anxiety and/or depression.
However, it is not only celebrities that are speaking out, athletes across all sports are increasingly using their platform to spread awareness and promote change around mental illness. People strive to emulate their role models, and the more famous people that come forward, the more society will accept mental illness as a part of life that is nondiscriminatory and survivable.
Lessons to Learn | Part 1
In the past two weeks, I have heard and read two of the most eye-opening and shell-shocking yet completely separate facts about suicide. The first is this: we are currently living in a time where more people take their own lives than are lost as a result of war or violent crime. More people kill themselves, than are killed by others. As of 2015, Australia records twice as many suicides than fatalities from road accidents.
Personally, I find this incredibly distressing. In an age of perceived stability within Australia, we are winning the battle against war, but losing the war against human nature.
Road crashes in Australia are estimated to cost $27 billion annually, while mental illness support costs around the same at $28.6 billion. Thankfully, the most recent budget announced an injection of $100 million into school based mental health initiatives, proving the government is getting serious about suicide education and prevention.
Good News Time: Australia has hit the emergency button and is finally recognising suicide as the serious health concern that it is!
Public education campaigns on mental illness and suicide prevention next please!
Lessons to Learn | Part 2
The second fact I came across was: if a person you have been worried about seems to suddenly make a ‘miraculous’ recovery, and rejoins your friendship group, is the life of the party, and/or overly generous; odds are higher that this person has ‘made their choice to die’ rather than ‘beaten their depressive illness’.
This reminded me of dehydration; your body will shut off the craving for water when it needs it the most in an effort to conserve energy. When you no longer feel the effects, the danger is at its highest and you need water the most.
Likewise, it is when your loved one seems dramatically better and free of the effects of mental illness, that the danger is at its highest and they need support the most.
Warning Signs | What To Look For
80% of people that commit suicide will exhibit some kind of sign, or demonstrate an intention to end their own lives prior to the act; so, the most at risk people might just need an opportunity to talk about what they’re feeling. RUOK? is focused on suicide prevention and was created for this very purpose: to remind everyone that meaningful connection with friends, family, work colleagues, even strangers can save lives.
While RUOK?Day is just one day, any day is a good day to start a conversation and prioritise mental health, and that is the whole point. The RUOK? initiative provides the stepping stones to commence a truly meaningful conversation within the framework of:
So make time, ask the question, and support those around you. A cheery smile and sunny disposition could be masking a sad, frightened, or struggling soul needing a little bit of help. The only way to remove the stigma around suicide and mental illness is to talk about them openly and without judgment. You never know; you might need help one day and really appreciate being able to speak out rather than keep everything locked inside.
Help Us Help Them | A Guide
Let’s all remember a very important point in all of this: MENTAL ILLNESS CAN BE TREATED!
If you are not OK, or just need to have a chat, please know help is available & that it is courageous to reach out. The following agencies are here to help:
- EMERGENCY – 000
- Beyond Blue – 1300 22 4636
- Black Dog Institute – (Online Only)
- Kids Helpline – 1800 551 800
- Lifeline – 13 11 14
- MensLine Australia – 1300 78 99 78
- RUOK? – (Online Only)
- SANE Australia – call 1800 18 7263.
- Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467
Likewise, if you ask RUOK? and find a friend, loved one, or stranger is not 100% OK, the services above have resources to help you, help them.
Note: Re-read those last four words. Help you, help them. Support is available for you while you support someone else.
Untreated, mental illness can wipe 25 years off your life expectancy, however with so much help available, while no treatment plan fits all, there is and should be a treatment plan for all.
Be strong. Seek help. I believe in you.