Each year, more than 2,000 Australians die as a result of suicide. This means that an average of seven Australians die every day by suicide. Suicide in Australia is a subject that has been studied extensively for years, making the story they tell that much more compelling and the numbers alone make it something that should not be ignored. Fortunately, there are many positive indicators in the efforts of Australians to curb this trend, so the primary effort in the past few years has been to keep this trend going forward and keep searches like “how to commit suicide” away from Australian Teens’ computers.
Over the past decade, about 2,415 Australians have died by suicide each year. In 2009, there were 2,132 Australians who committed suicide. In 2012, the most recent year that data is available, 2,535 suicides were reported. This is the highest number of suicides that has been reported over the past decade.
Over the past decade, about 2100 people have died by suicide each year. There were 2132 deaths from suicide registered in 2009, which is down from the 2282 deaths from suicide recorded in 2008. Note that both 2008 and 2009 figures are subject to revision. Deaths from suicide represented 1.4% of all deaths registered in 2009.
Suicide rates for both males and females have generally decreased since the mid-90s with the overall suicide rate decreasing by 23% between 1999 and 2009. Suicide rates for males peaked in 1997 at 23.6 per 100,000 but have steadily decreased since then and stood at 14.9 per 100,000 in 2009. Female rates reached a high of 6.2 per 100,000 in 1997. Rates declined after that and was 4.5 per 100,000 in 2009.
In Australia 48% of all suicides in 2000 were by 35-64 year olds; an additional 13% were by 65 year olds and over. Australian suicide rates have remained relatively steady since 2003, however, as was pointed out in a recent report by the WHO, the suicide rate among females has been increasing while the suicide rate among males has been decreasing.
Suicide rates are generally higher amongst males, rural and regional dwellers, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The numbers and rates of suicide vary across the States and Territories. The highest suicide rates occur in the Northern Territory followed by Tasmania and Western Australia.
The most common method of suicide in Australia is hanging, strangulation, and suffocation. This differs between sexes.
There is only a limited amount of information available as to the extent of suicide attempts. It has been estimated that 370,000 Australians think about killing themselves every year. This is compared to 91,000 who make a plan to commit suicide, and 65,000 suicide attempts and occur every year.
Interestingly, it has also been estimated that for every one person who succeeds in committing suicide, there are six who are directly affected by that action. Further, as can be imagined, the grief associated with suicide can linger for many years. Based on this estimate, 15,200 individuals in Australia are burdened by grief as a result of suicide last year alone, although this figure is likely to be much higher.
The trouble is, when the issue comes home, what can you do in order to prevent such a tragedy from happening?
Suicide is never something most people want to think about. Unfortunately, just as is the case with many scourges of life such as war and poverty, it’s fact of life. Ignoring the problem doesn’t help. In fact, it often makes things worse. When many people encounter someone who espresses their desire to commit suicide, their first inclination is to distract them, to take their mind off of what they say that they want or are planning on doing. People also believe that since they might not be psychologists or counselors that they are not qualified to help. This is also very false.
Let’s say you get up one day to check your email, and in the course of going through your computer’s files you come across a search history that you are not familiar with. Maybe the search criteria include entries such as “how to commit suicides by taking pills” or “how to commit suicide painlessly,” or something similar. The first inclination of most people who might encounter something like this is to panic or get angry. These are the last responses anyone should have.
Instead, the first thing you should do is to determine who did the searches and for what reason. If you have school-age youngsters in the house, this might be cause for great concern. Or maybe not. It might be possible that they are researching the subject for a school report or something similar, or perhaps they are trying to help someone in such a situation. Regardless, you should try to determine who made the search and for what reason. If you found this out from some other source, check that out too. Either way, find out who the one is who needs attention. Then do everything you can to confront the situation head on.
Don’t Ignore the Issue
It doesn’t matter whether you know who the information is regarding or not, find out. Don’t ignore it until you find out more or until you can learn more about what you are dealing with. If you are concerned enough to be upset by the fact that you have found this information out, you are immensely qualified to ask questions of whomever you suspect made the queries.
It is important that you are able to bring up what you found out to the person who might be in need of help. Don’t beat around the bush. Many people believe that if they bring up the subject of suicide, particularly the fact that someone is contemplating it, that will bring the issue to mind so they will act on it. There is nothing further from the truth. Instead, it’s like discussion cancer or some other health issue with someone who is suffering from it. Just because you bring up the subject of the cancer or other issue,
Know the Warning Signs
Even if you are not a mental health professional, it would behoove you to know the warning signs of someone who is contemplating or might be contemplating suicide. These include dramatic changes in behavior or weight, drinking more than usual, changes in mood, anxiety, making statements about hopelessness, death or dying, becoming isolated and withdrawing from others, and dropping out of activities they once enjoyed. Beyond these, trust your gut, especially if the person is someone you have known for a while.
Making the Approach
Suicide is something that is contemplated and carried out in private. As a result, you should not allow the person to be in a suicidal mood and be by themselves. Instead, engage the person so that they know you are there for them. Start a conversation by letting them know that you care about them and are concerned about their behavior. Begin a conversation by saying something like, “I know you and you seem a little down recently. Could we talk about that? I want to help if there’s something I can do.”
Don’t beat around the bush when you think someone is suicidal. Ask them if they are considering hurting themselves. In many cases they will admit their thoughts. Be prepared to respond to them. You should remember that although you are not a counselor or other mental health professional (unless you are), you are someone who deeply cares about them and their situation. Make sure they know that.
It’s been said many times and in many ways, but suicide is a person crying out for help. Give them the greatest gift you have to offer, yourself. Listen to them. Be honest with them. Be that resource they can use to get the help they need.
Any time you are talking with someone who is expressing their decision to commit suicide, you should let them know that the act of suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Further, suicide often creates far more problems that it ever solves. Instead, you should convey to that person that they do have a reason to live, they do have the support they need to survive and thrive. Then make sure they get the help they need.
Where do you go from here? The truth is that suicide isn’t something that it talked about very much in our society. As a result there is little we can do or know how to do to help someone. Awareness helps, but it has to go beyond that. Don’t feel like you have to step into a therapist’s shoes to be of assistance. But don’t feel that there’s nothing you can do either. You never know when all you can do is everything that someone might need to hear to turn their life around. It’s like the old saying goes, “You can’t be somebody to everyone, but to someone you might be everything.” Be that everything to someone today. You will never regret it.