RUOK? Suicide: Have the Conversation
This year, the message of RUOK Day (11th September ) is ‘have the conversation’. Asking someone whether they are thinking about suicide is a very difficult conversation to have. So, how do we approach such a conversation?
Firstly, if your mind is throwing out thoughts such as “what if I’m wrong?” or “what if I make it worse?”, think about what you are making a stand for. By speaking out about your fears, you’re showing caring, friendship, and kindness. Express your concern and don’t be afraid to ask a direct question, such as “are you thinking of killing yourself?” or “are you thinking about suicide?”.
Avoid making any judgmental response to what they say. The aim is to show that you are listening, to allow them to feel heard and to encourage them to seek help. Help the person identify others who can help and support them. This is one time that keeping their confidentiality is not the priority – keeping them safe is. If this means you have to involve someone else, then go for it. If the person is at imminent risk, dial 000 (emergency services) and inform them of what is happening.
I am often asked whether asking a person about suicide will put the idea into their head. In over 25 years of clinical practice I have never yet had a client respond that no, they hadn’t thought of suicide, but would consider it now that I had mentioned it. My experience, echoed by expert research, is that on the contrary, asking such a question allows a person to open up about how they are feeling, to feel heard and cared for and to help them get the help they need. Asking is better than staying silent.
Finally, be kind to yourself. I know from my personal and professional experience that no matter what we do, people may still attempt to end their life, and some will succeed. Make sure you get support that you need through this difficult time. You don’t have to go through this alone.
Mental Health Line: Ph 1800 011 511. This line is staffed 24 hours, 7 days a week. You will be able to speak with a clinician who can provide recommendations about how to manage the situation or put you in contact with the appropriate mental health team.
Lifeline Ph 13 11 14: 24-hour, 7 days a week crisis counselling service and online service (www.lifeline.org.au)
Suicide Call Back Service Ph 1300 659 467: 24-hour national telephone service to people over 18 years, and online service (www.Suicidecallbackservice.org.au)
Kids Helpline Ph 1800 551 800: Free confidential 24-hour telephone and online counselling for young people between 5 and 18 years. (www.kidshelp.com.au)
Beyondblue: National Depression Initiative Ph 1300 224 636. 24-hour telephone support and chat service, with links to other services (www.beyondblue.org.au)