AS with many aspects of our lives that were once considered impolite to speak about, suicide is something we are now able to discuss more or less openly.
There are some restrictions. For example, mainstream media organisations such as the Newcastle Herald abide by a voluntary code of conduct that informs the way individual suicides are reported, for fear that knowledge of methods will trigger copy-cat deaths.
But by-and-large, a national conversation about suicide is unfolding, and part of that conversation is the ability to talk freely about our feelings, and to ask the person next to us if they need a hand.
As part of that increasing awareness about the role that everyday people can play in suicide prevention, today is the 10th annual “RU OK? Day”, a national day of action started in 2009 by Australian ad man Gavin Larkin after the death of his father.
Across the Hunter Region, various businesses, organisations and individuals are taking part in RU OK? activities, and signing on for training programs such as the QPR – short for “question, persuade and refer” – modules offered by Everymind (formerly the Hunter Institute of Mental Health) and the evidence-based suicide prevention group Lifespan.
Volunteer groups such as Mates in Mining and Mates in Construction are another example of the way that suicide awareness is percolating into our everyday lives.
While suicide affects all sorts of people in every age group, one of the defining characteristics of the situation, statistically, is that male suicide rates are about three times those of womens’.
ABS figures show a slow increase in suicide rates over the decade to 2016, with males taking their own lives at the rate of 17.9 for every 100,000, and females at the rate of 5.9 per 100,000.
But the most worrying statistic of all – as highlighted by Lifeline – is that suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians aged 15 to 44. Lifeline also notes that for every person who succeeds in taking their own lives, another 30 attempts are made.
These are terrible figures, and behind all of these numbers are despairing individuals whose experiences have driven them to the most extreme of measures.
Talk alone cannot turn this tide, but that simple question – are you OK? – might hopefully be a turning point.