Suicide is a growing problem, especially in Australia, and in people 15-44 years, it is the leading cause of death. Suicide is now recognised as a major public health concern, challenging us not only in terms of the individual people who take their own life but also in terms of the difficulty of reporting on the actual numbers of people lost to, and affected by, suicide.
Many people who undertake research in the area of suicide believe that people who end their own lives do not actually want to die, but feel there is no other option to relieve them of their pain. Those who do take their own life may feel overwhelmed by their suffering, often insulated from the world and desperate for release from the weight of the distress. It is important to understand that suicide is the result of many factors in a person’s life and not one particular event or discussion. Suicide is complex: there is no single explanation.
Why do people take their own lives?
There are many reasons why someone may consider taking their own life:
- feeling ‘boxed in’ by current circumstances, stresses and social pressures such as unemployment, financial or legal problems, pressures at work or through studying
- relationship break-ups and family problems
- long term problems associated with past sexual, physical or emotional abuse
- drug or alcohol problems
- mental ill-health including eating disorders
- grief over the death of a loved one or public figure
- chronic pain or physical disability
- feelings of isolation or helplessness
Mental health conditions, including depression, schizophrenia, severe personality problems and alcohol and other substance abuse issues can increase the risk that someone may take their own life. However, in some instances, signs of these illnesses may not have been evident before a suicide occurs.
Among people who work in the area of suicide, there is no agreed way to predict whether someone will take their own life. Sometimes, people may give an indication of some sort or make a direct threat to take their own life, but often there may be no warning signs. If there is a warning or threat, this should always be taken seriously and support provided to assist the person to access appropriate help.
Mistaken beliefs about suicide
There are some commonly held misunderstandings about suicide and self-harm. It is important to challenge these myths in order to recognise when someone is at risk and to provide appropriate support.
Beyond Blue1 has developed specific information in response to some common misunderstandings about suicide:
MYTH: Talking about suicide is a bad idea and might be interpreted as encouragement.
FACT: Given the widespread stigma around suicide, most people who are thinking about suicide don’t know who to talk to about it. Rather than encouraging suicidal behaviour, talking openly about what is going on can give them other options, or the time to rethink their decision.
MYTH: Once someone is suicidal, they will stay suicidal.
FACT: Heightened suicide risk is often short-term and situation-specific. While suicidal thoughts may return, they’re not permanent. Someone who has experienced suicidal thoughts or attempts can go on to live a long life.
MYTH: Someone who is suicidal is determined to die.
FACT: Suicidal people often feel an overwhelming sense of distress and want this to end. When people are suicidal, they’re usually feeling alone or like they’re a burden to others and are in need of emotional support. Access to support at the right time can prevent suicide.
MYTH: People who talk about suicide are not always intending to take their own life.
FACT: A significant number of people contemplating suicide are experiencing severe anxiety, depression and hopelessness and may feel that their only option is to end their own life.
MYTH: Most suicides happen without warning.
FACT: Most suicides are preceded by verbal or behavioural warning signs. Some suicides occur without any obvious warning, but it’s important to understand what the warning signs are and look out for them.
MYTH: Only people with mental health conditions are suicidal.
FACT: Suicidal behaviour indicates deep unhappiness, not necessarily a mental health issue. Many people living with mental health issues aren’t suicidal, and not all people who take their own lives have a mental health issue.