What are the thought processes behind suicide? How can you recognise the warning signs and act quickly to help someone experiencing suicidal thoughts? This segment goes a long way to breaking down stereotypes about this hidden epidemic.
MYREE HARRIS RSJ (President, NSW State Advisory Committee on Mental Health): It’s very hard to get inside someone’s skin and realise how black everything seems and how hopeless. Particularly if the person seems to be young, on top of everything, full of opportunities, talented, brilliant and these people kill themselves.
JOHN O’NEIL (President, State Council, St Vincent de Paul Society New South Wales): I honestly believe that part of the high suicide rate today is caused by people who have very few friends, practically no friends. Quite often [they have] no friends at all. They’re so isolated that life becomes desperate for them, so I think friendship is a gift to people that we can offer. We don’t have to offer them food or clothing. They already have food and clothing, but what they don’t have is friendship. It’s essential that we offer friendship.
JOHN CAMPBELL (President, State Council St Vincent de Paul Society Queensland): We’re finding that the younger men, say aged 18 to 35 are ones that seem to suffer most from social isolation and they don’t seem to have the support systems that used to be there a few years ago.
MYREE HARRIS RSJ: Or an older man, on the farm going through huge problems not being able to pay the bills. Feeling humiliated and embarrassed and ashamed and just feeling it’s all impossible, but not able to communicate that to anyone.
JOHN KONRADS (Former Olympic swimmer): I think the key thing here is to remember that people don’t want to own up, don’t want to admit it because they’re too proud of themselves and yet that makes their life a misery. Worse still, left alone they might eventually do themselves in.
JOHN CAMPBELL: A couple of years ago I did a tour throughout the whole of the Western Queensland, and one of the areas where there appears to be a lot of work, they had a lot of suicides happening with young people, and a major part of those suicides were car accidents. They weren’t reported as suicides, they were reported a car accident but in some cases there were notes found in the vehicles to say that you know, they can’t stand living anymore and they’re going to end it.
Dr BOB SERICH (Chair, National Mental Health and Homelessness Advisory Committee): Of course hitting a telegraph pole or a tree at 120km per hour is probably an almost certain way for things to be all over in a hurry.
JOHN CAMPBELL: Now that is one of the major problems that we face in the country and it’s possibly caused by social isolation. By the situation that the country’s in drought and that there doesn’t appear to be any future for them.
JOHN CAMPBELL: One of the reasons we’re training our people to recognise the symptoms of suicide or suicide tendencies is to… so that we can perhaps prevent this from happening before it does happen. It’s something that’s very hard to pick. You see it in families all the time. A family member seems to be normal on the outside, the next minute they commit suicide and there was no indication or if there were, people didn’t pick up the signs.
Dr SERICH: So the warning signs for teen suicide are things like kids making suicide threats whether they are direct or indirect, having an obsession with sort of morbid thoughts about death and departure, poems and essays, drawings that are of that morbid nature. A dramatic change in their personality and appearance, you know like they become less attentive to the way they appear and sloppy. Bizarre behaviour and overwhelming sort of descriptions of guilt and shame to people. Changed eating habits, not wanting to have meals, sleeping badly, reversal of their day/night stuff, up all night, sleeping all day, or waking up in the early hrs of the morning in that classic depressive style. A severe drop off in their performance at school, if they’re going to school.
JOHN CAMPBELL: As far as someone giving an indication they’re going to suicide, sometimes there is no indication whatsoever, particularly with men. Women we find will perhaps say they’re thinking of suicide and they won’t do it. Men usually don’t say and they do, do it.
GREG HOGAN (Coordinator Ozanam institute of spirituality): People who are untrained in mental health issues should take every suicide threat seriously.
JOHN CAMPBELL: If you encounter somebody who you feel is suicidal, you ask them I think. Ask them do you feel as if you want to commit suicide? If they say yes, then you get some help for them. Again probably ring the ambulance and say this guy’s suicidal and I think he needs to be looked after. Certainly you wouldn’t walk away and leave them to it. You’d try and help them if you could. And from what I’ve been told, usually if you ask them if their feeling suicidal they will tell you.
JOHN KONRADS: It happened to me a couple of months ago, a person who rang me in a panic who was a stranger. I reluctantly decided to have a cup of coffee with them, because I’m busy like everyone else, and advised them to go to the Black Dog Institute for some advice and I got a call in January from Professor Gordon Barker about two-three weeks later saying me “I think you just saved somebody’s life”. Now that was a bit overwhelming for me and it may not be the case, I think people save their own lives, but if you can contribute to somebody saving their own life, and you have, many of you have and you will know it’s fantastic. Because people do get better and they do improve and they start leading normal lives again and science is coming through with new medications, new treatments, new forms of therapy to succeed.