- 720 people in Victoria took their own lives in 2018. Suicide is the leading cause of death among people aged 15 to 44.
- Every suicide could affect up to 135 people. Up to 97,200 people may have been affected by suicide in Victoria in 2018.
- The stigma around suicide is harmful to people who may be experiencing suicidal thoughts or who are otherwise affected or bereaved. One tragic consequence of the stigma of suicide is that people who are distressed by suicide or suicidal thoughts may feel unable to discuss their stresses and worries, thereby increasing their risk of suicide.
Suicide is a serious public health problem throughout Victoria. It is the leading cause of death among people aged 15 to 44 and is three times as prevalent in men as it is in women.
720 people in Victoria took their own lives in 2018, a marked increase over the previous reporting period. Every suicide is an irreversible tragedy and a shocking loss to the community — however, the loss and devastation of suicide extends further than most of us realise.
Suicide has far-reaching effects
The damaging effect is so far-reaching that every death by suicide may affect as many 135 people. That’s according to one figure put forward during the recent Royal Commission Into Victoria’s Mental Health System.
When someone takes their own life it doesn’t just affect their family and friends. It also affects their neighbours, workplace, sports club, school, emergency services who attend the scene, church, service providers, the people at the local shops, acquaintances who know them online, their pets…
Assuming that the figure of 135 people is accurate and consistent, it may be reasonably assumed that the 720 suicides in Victoria in 2018 could have affected as many as 97,200 people.
The stigma of suicide
Many of the tragic effects of suicide can be imagined: grief and bereavement, loss, trauma, loneliness, erosion of faith or questioning of deeply-held belief.
It is also possible to imagine the many mental health issues that can arise from dealing with the pain of suicide. They often include depression and anxiety, sleep disturbances, unhealthy coping behaviours like drugs and alcohol, social withdrawal, binge eating or loss of appetite, mistrust, and many more.
The emotional pain of dealing with a suicide can be indescribable to someone who has not been in that situation. However, often adding to the distress is something that is discussed less often. This is the stigma surrounding suicide.
Different forms of stigma
Stigma is best described as a “lack of knowledge or misinformation, prejudicial attitudes and discriminating behaviour”. The stigma of suicide can take different forms. Here are some examples.
- A person’s suicide (and often by extension, suicide in general) is a subject which does not get discussed. It may be deemed taboo, so much so that in some cases it could even lead to denial of the facts to friends, family and peers.
- The stigma may be directed at someone who attempted to take their own life or expressed suicidal thoughts. Shaming someone about their suicidal thoughts or behaviour is unlikely to address the underlying cause of distress.
- In some situations the stigma could be directed at people who are bereaved by suicide, whether through blaming, avoiding the person or topic or perceived feelings of shame.
Stigma toward suicide in any form can lead to tragic consequences. In particular, the belief that talking about stresses and worries is shameful or a sign of weakness (let alone talking about suicide and suicidal ideation) can be harmful. Not talking about it leads to a lack of understanding on the subject. This means that those struggling with suicidal thoughts may feel that they cannot talk about their concerns.
According to one recent report commissioned specifically to address how stigma affects people affected by suicide: “stigma… can lead to obscured behaviour and aversion to help-seeking, which may have life-altering effects and, ultimately lead to increased ongoing suicide risk.”
How we can all help
- Look out for suicide warning signs. People who are thinking about suicide will often give some clues that they are troubled.
- Reach out. If you’re worried about someone, talk to them. It is a myth that talking to someone about suicide will make them more suicidal.
- Listen and support. Talking to someone who is thinking about suicide shows them that you care. There are many ways in which you can support them — but don’t forget to look after yourself
- Help with a suicide safety plan and encourage use of the ReMinder app. The app is a self-managed tool to help people with their coping strategy.
- Encourage and help them to get support. You should not shoulder the burden on your own. A good way to start is with a free online counselling session or free phone counselling call with SuicideLine Victoria. The service is open 24 / 7 and is staffed by professional career counsellors (there are no volunteers). A counsellor is trained to listen and can help you or the distressed person manage and cope.
If you or someone you know is struggling and want to speak to a professional counsellor, SuicideLine Victoria is available 24/7. Call us on 1300 651 251.
If it is an emergency, call 000.