When did you last ask, Are U ok?

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**Trigger Warning**

Like millions of families Australia wide ours has been touched by suicide, in fact with an average of 200 suicide attempts and 8 people taking their own lives per day (2800 per year) it would be more likely than not to have lost a family member or friend to suicide.

Suicide is the national conversation we need to have, it’s the leading cause of death for those aged 15-44 years and the second leading cause of death in the 45-54 age group.

The impact of suicide on family and friends is devastating, all grief is devastating but suicide brings about it’s own peculiarities; the replayed conversations, the “if only” thoughts, the guilt that you didn’t do more, the anger that they left you. It leaves a scar seared onto your soul that doesn’t go away and you have just joined the club nobody wants to be a member of.

This Thursday is R U Ok Day, established in 2009 by Gavin Larkin in an effort to honour his father after his suicide in 1995, what began as a documentary to raise suicide awareness developed into a national movement to talk about mental health.

Similarly Beyond Blue was establish in 2000 to raise awareness around depression and to address the associated stigma. After continued research and community awareness their mandate has broadened to include anxiety and suicide prevention. This Monday was World Suicide Prevention Day.

According to Lifeline three times as many men as women die from suicide. Many Australian men are not good at dealing with poor mental health, and unfortunately this tips them into a downward spiral of hopelessness, poor decision-making and poor resilience to day-to-day life stresses. They don’t ask for help when they need it and as a result can see no end to the pain they are living everyday.

And this is where asking Are U Ok is so valuable. If a mate, a work colleague or family member has been behaving a bit out of character, been more withdrawn than usual and your gut is telling you something isn’t quite right then strike up a conversation and ask them are they ok?

The R U OK website has a wealth of resources to help you take that initial step, and I’m going to be honest with you, talking to someone about their mental health can be pretty confronting, but the more knowledge you can arm yourself with the more confident you will feel. In saying that if you aren’t in the right headspace yourself, or you don’t think you’re the right person for the job then see if you can find someone else to help.

Beyond Blue have come up with this handy infographic to help you have a conversation with someone you are worried about.

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So what are some of the warning signs that someone may not be coping?

  • A sense of hopelessness or no hope for the future.
  • Isolation or feeling alone – “No one understands me”.
  • Aggressiveness and irritability – “Leave me alone”.
  • Possessing lethal means – medication, weapons.
  • Negative view of self – “I’m worthless”.
  • Drastic changes in mood and behaviour.
  • Frequently talking about death – “If I died would you miss me?”.
  • Self-harming behaviours like cutting.
  • Risk-taking behaviours – “I’ll try anything, I’m not afraid to die”.
  • Making funeral arrangements.
  • Giving things away (clothes, expensive gifts) – “When I’m gone, I want you to have this”.
  • Substance abuse.
  • Feeling like a burden to others – “You’d be better off without me”.
  • Talking about suicide – “Sometimes I feel like I just want to die”.

If you are unsure whether someone is going to kill him or herself, the best way to find out is to ask. You might be worried that you will ‘put the idea of suicide into a person’s head’ if you ask about suicide. However, you cannot make a person suicidal by showing your concern. In fact, giving a suicidal person the opportunity to express his or her feelings can give relief from isolation and pent-up negative feelings, and may in fact reduce the risk of suicide.

What about if you’ve identified you aren’t coping and you want to ask for help, how do you go about having that conversation? You may feel ashamed talking about it or worry that people will judge you or not take you seriously. But talking to someone you trust and feel comfortable with can help.

  • Share how you feel with someone you trust and feel comfortable with – this could be someone in your family, a friend, a teacher, doctor or other health professional
  • Try and think about it as just another conversation. Describe what’s happened, how you feel and the help you need. It’s best to be direct so that they understand how you feel.
  • Be prepared for their reaction. People who learn that someone is suicidal can be quite shocked and emotional. Just keep talking and together you can find a way through it.
  • Ask your support person to help you find support; in person, online, or over the phone.
  • It’s important to have support, but if you tell someone about your suicidal thoughts, you can’t expect them to keep it a secret. They’ll need to be able to help you stay safe and that usually means calling in extra help.

So, as awkward as that initial conversation will be, there is nothing to be gained by standing back and hoping someone “gets better”. Look after your mates, lookout for your family and take the time to just listen to how someone really is.

In memory of family & friends lost to suicide xx

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