It’s a beautiful morning. Its cold outside but the sun is shining. I’m sitting in a café across from the water starting my work day. And it hits me, today 8 people in Australia will take their own life. 8 people will feel so desperate, so alone, so hopeless, they will take drastic action to end their life deliberately.
I don’t mean to startle you. In fact, we had this conversation in our team just yesterday. You see, we’re developing our online suicide prevention course, and the question was, how do we help people to see how important, how urgent this is, without scaring people? How do we help people to look at something that so often we as a society don’t want to look at or think about? How do we make it OK to talk about suicide, to learn about suicide?
I think the time for downplaying it has ended. In Australia we now have a situation where more people die each day from suicide than through road accidents. Let that sink in. More people deliberately take their own life, than by accident on the road. And 6 of those will be men. What is going on for men? Well there are many and complex issues, which I won’t go into right now, that’s for another article.
You know we’ve seen increasing rates of suicide over the last few years, despite the growing focus on mental health issues. How can that be? Well, there are a number of factors, but one thing I think is important to realise is that much of the focus has been on ‘awareness campaigns’. Now that is a good start, and in many cases, where there is a big taboo that is the best place to start – just to get people talking about mental health is an improvement. But if we really want to make a difference it can’t end there. People need real skills, they need to know what to watch for in their colleagues and friends, and they need to know what to do, how to respond.
If we are looking to make a difference in the lives of Australians (and we are), workplaces are a great place to start, as we spend so much of our lives at work, hours at a time, day after day with the same people by our side.
But here I have a frustration too. My frustration is that so many workplaces mean to equip their staff in this area. They want to give them those skills, they want to make a difference to their staff. But with all the competing priorities and demands, mental health training often gets left for later. But I come back to my initial statement. Today 8 people will take their life, tomorrow another 8 people, and the day after that, and the day after that. Every day that we put off mental health training til ‘the next quarter’, or ‘after the restructure’, or ‘when Bob gets back from leave’, is another day that we are at risk of losing a valued colleague, a good friend. Simply because someone didn’t have the training, didn’t notice the warning signs, or didn’t know what to do.
And I get it, I’ve been in senior management positions for a while now. There are competing demands. It’s the reality of business. But if you knew that someone in your team was going to attempt to take their life, would that suddenly make it more urgent? It is unfortunate that so many groups we train, have decided to implement some mental health education AFTER there has been a crisis like this. It’s sad. I just wish they would do it earlier. Do it now. It’s not unusual to have 80% of the room know someone who has taken their life. And yet we don’t hear about it. Part of that is because of the way suicide is reported, but also I think, we don’t want to hear about it. Because we feel helpless, we don’t know what to do. This is where just a little bit of training can make all the difference. I cant count the number of times that someone has come up to us after training, to let us know they used one or some of the techniques we taught them, and that it made such a big difference in the lives of their friend/colleague/family member.
Well, that’s my thoughts for today. I hope it hasn’t been too much of a downer for you. Suicide is a serious matter, and we need to act, we need to do something. But life is meant to be enjoyed too. So As I said, it’s a beautiful day today. I’m going to enjoy it, be grateful for the simple things like the sunshine on the water. The fresh clean water in my glass. And keep working to get the message out there.