There are many things that we can collectively do to help combat our alarming suicide statistics. Remember that suicide prevention is up to every single one of us. It is important to take time to learn some basic things that you might be able to do to help someone who is feeling suicidal.
The first thing to know is that it is okay to ask the question: “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” There is an old myth that asking someone if they are suicidal can plant the idea in their head, but that is simply not the case. Asking someone if they are suicidal does not make them suicidal; it simply opens the door for them to have an honest conversation about how they are feeling.
If you are concerned for someone’s wellbeing, encouraging them to seek professional assistance is really important; that could be helping them make a doctor’s appointment, calling a counsellor or contacting a helpline. Taking these practical steps will help the person know that you can see they are struggling and want to do something proactive to help them.
Often people who are having suicidal thoughts can have core beliefs such as “I am a burden”, “I’m unlovable” or “the world is a better place without me”. One of the ways to combat these beliefs is by having people around you who say and do things that contradict these thoughts — simple things like reminding you that they love you or believe in you. Never underestimate the power of words. Even if there is no response in the moment, you never know the impact it can have and how it can start to shift the negative thoughts.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death in young people globally. In Australia, eight people die every day by suicide. That’s more than double the road toll. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 3046 Australians died by suicide in 2018 and 458 of these were young people under the age of 25.
Suicide is a huge problem and our young people are being failed over and over again by broken systems, broken responses and a broken society. However, there is still hope for change. We must have these conversations both about and with young people. The old-school responses of “they are just attention seeking” when they hurt themselves or “things were harder in my day” are invalidating and silence young people from feeling free to speak out and ask for help. Young people don’t expect you to fully understand, but they do want you to try to learn and listen.
There are many things we can all do to combat the stigmas around mental health. When it comes to bullying, there are usually three people in the situation: the bully, the victim and the bystander. Often the bystander is the most powerful and influential person. They are the person who maybe isn’t actively hurting someone or being abusive, but they are also not actively defending the victim. When it comes to mental health, we need a strong army of people who will jump in when they hear others say things like, “She’s just attention seeking.” We need people who will shut down negative conversations and instead encourage hopeful dialogue. You don’t have to go out and change the world, but you do have the ability to be a part of changing the conversation and stigmas around mental health.
“How are you?” is something you may be asked, or will ask someone else most days, but have you got into the habit of responding with a scripted answer like, “Yeah good thanks, how are you?” even when you aren’t good? This doesn’t leave space for people to actually talk about how they are truly feeling. Instead, we must become more intentional with this question and allow the conversation to follow. This may help people to speak up earlier rather than waiting until they are in a crisis.
Due to COVID-19, the past year has been huge for everyone, and the number of people experiencing mental distress has increased. There are things we can all do to combat low mental health during this time, including staying in a routine, FaceTime or Zooming friends, scheduling online “coffee” dates and being kind to yourself. We were never designed to do life alone, so don’t socially isolate. Connection is key.
Remember that even when things feel overwhelming and impossible, there is always hope. Your story isn’t over yet.
5 tips for robust mental health
- Make time for self-care. Have a relaxing bath, read a good book or watch the sunset
- Reach out and connect with others
- Download a mental wellbeing app like Mentemia or The Resilience Project
- Exercise. Get outside and go for a walk
- Find gratitude in something every day
Jazz Thornton is a young New Zealander who is the co-founder of Voices of Hope, which provides help and hope to those struggling with mental illness. She advocates for those with depression, anxiety and suicidal thinking all around the world. She’s the author of Stop Surviving Start Fighting.