Calls to Lifeline hit an all-time high this week as social media platforms went into overdrive to delete a video of an American man taking his life.
The suicide was live streamed on Facebook and then shared on Twitter and Instagram. Those platforms took the video down, but it was still being viewed by thousands on TikTok.
The video could be seen as a symptom of our times, with modelling done by the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre in May predicting a 25 per cent jump in the number of suicides during the pandemic.
Lifeline has reported a huge spike in calls to its 24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention hotline. It said it received 3326 calls on Tuesday – a 30 per cent increase on the same day last year and a record in its 57-year history.
Lifeline chairman John Brogden wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald on Thursday to mark World Suicide Prevention Day and RU-OK? Day: “When people lose their job, they lose their family, they lose their home and they risk losing their life …”
As he shared his personal story – “15 years ago, aged 36, near the top of my career and a step away from being premier of NSW, I tried to end my life by suicide. I wanted to die. I didn’t reach out for help. I thank God every day that I didn’t complete my suicide” – he lauded the increased openness in the community about mental illness. “[It] is on the public agenda in a manner unimaginable 15 short years ago. It is spoken about openly, regularly and almost always responsibly.”
But he said the “ battle for a steady and sustained reduction in suicide in Australia” was not being won.
“More people die by suicide than in road accidents every year. Eight Australians will die by suicide today – six men and two women. Suicide rates in rural Australia are still higher than metropolitan areas. The suicide rate of Indigenous Australians is double that of the rest of the population.”
Mr Brogden said JobKeeper had “literally been a lifesaver for millions of Australians”.
He wrote: “When and how it [JobKeeper] ends will have major consequences for mental health and suicide. The dislocation of bushfires and COVID have been enormous and the scale of the trauma for many is yet to land.”
Lifeline received about a million calls a year, but calls had risen 25 per cent this year, consistently breaking records from the start of March, Mr Brogden said, adding: “It’s not a record we want to keep breaking.”
The federal government’s National Suicide Prevention Adviser, Christine Morgan, says everyone must trust their intuition and get in contact with anyone they are worried about.
“How often has our ‘gut’ feeling told us that something is not quite right with someone we care about, but we avoided the conversation for fear of getting it wrong, or not knowing how to respond if the answer is, ‘No, I’m actually not OK’?”
Ms Morgan told The Age that suicide statistics were only part of the picture.
“There are many more people who live with suicidal ideation and who experience suicidal distress. Behind each of those numbers is a person, a journey and a network of other people,” she said.
Lifeline recommends being direct and unambiguous if you suspect someone is considering suicide. It suggests we say: “Are you thinking about suicide?” It says: “Don’t be afraid to do this, it shows you care and will actually decrease their risk because it shows someone is willing to talk about it.”
Mr Brogden urges us all not to be lazy and ask governments to meet the crisis.
“Businesses need to look after the mental health of their staff. Companies doing well need to increase their donations. Financial institutions need to genuinely put customers first.
“And communities, through schools, sporting clubs and other local touch points, can do more to put their arms around families and individuals in crisis. Food parcels. Petrol money. Counselling. A kind word.
“We all play a role in preventing suicide.”
If you or anyone you know needs support:
Lifeline 13 11 14
Beyond Blue 1300 224 636
Headspace 1800 650 890
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