In Australia 1 out of 5 adults experience some form of mental illness, with many not receiving professional assistance. Around 2,800 Australians die from suicide each year, and for every one of those, up to 20 people attempt suicide. However, with intervention, support from family and friends, effective treatment and time, many people who have had suicidal thoughts, or attempted suicides can have long, fulfilling and productive lives.
Accredited Mental Health First Aiders can play a part to provide early intervention, referrals to relevant professionals, ongoing support and working together to ensure someone’s safety during a crisis.
People feel suicidal because the distress caused by the illness can be so great they may feel an overwhelming desire to end their life. Suicide can also be related to distressing life events. People with Depression, Psychosis and drugs and alcohol problems are particularly vulnerable to suicidal thoughts and behaviours.
The majority of people who are suicidal give warning signs about their intentions, and when having a mental health conversation with someone these are things to look out for:
- Threatening to hurt or kill themselves
- expressions of hopelessness or helplessness
- an overwhelming sense of shame or guilt
- a dramatic change in personality or appearance, or irrational or bizarre behaviour
- changed eating or sleeping habits
- a severe drop in school or work performance
- a lack of interest in the future
- giving away possessions and putting their affairs in order.
- dramatic changes in mood
Many people speak of their intention to commit suicide or write about it. For adolescents on social media posting information about suicide, saying goodbye and deleting accounts can also be a sign.
It is important that if you think that someone might be having suicidal thoughts that you ask them directly. Listen non-judgmentally, find out more from the person so you can assess whether there is an immediate safety issue. If there is, stay with the person, get appropriate help, and look at creating a safety plan.
It is vital that if you are having these discussions, and providing support to someone who is suicidal, that you take care of yourself and practice some form of self-care.
Attending a mental health first aid course takes you through the process of identifying signs of suicidal thoughts, assessing the risk to the individual, and having conversations about suicide. It gives you information about the services that you can recommend, and how you can provide ongoing support.
If you or someone you know are experiencing a suicidal crisis, please contact
Lifeline – 13 11 14
Suicide call back service – 1300 659 467
NSW Mental Health Line – 1800 011 511
Standard Mental First Aid Manual 2019