Confronting suicide: how asking straight up can help

HOPE: Ballarat police Inspector Trevor Cornwill lights a candle in the annual Out of Shadows walk in Ballarat last year.
HOPE: Ballarat police Inspector Trevor Cornwill lights a candle in the annual Out of Shadows walk in Ballarat last year.

IF you are concerned someone might be thinking about taking their own life just ask straight up, a community psychologist urges.

RU OK Day promotes asking the question, listening without judgement, seeking professional help and checking-in later. But if seriously concerned someone was contemplating suicide, ask, and follow the same steps, Ballarat Community Health counselling coordinator Katrina Bevelander said.

"Sometimes this might be what scares people, asking straight up...Suicidal thoughts and feelings thrive in secrecy. Being more upfront can help destigmatise suicide," Ms Bevelander said.

We have a culture of people asking 'are you okay' and our general response is 'fine' or 'yep'.

"...We have a culture of people asking 'are you okay' and our general response is 'fine' or 'yep'. Signs can feed back that maybe someone is not okay, noticing changes, and to do that we need to deepen our connections."

Sessions work through facts of suicide, signs in conversations or behaviours that might indicate suicidal thinking and an invitation to open conversation, how to listen without fear or judgement and help to keep them safe.

Ms Bevelander said it was important, particularly in the wake of a series of high-profile deaths by suicide, that people did not feel blame.

Ms Bevelander said amid increasingly busy lives it was important we move out of problem-solving mode to connecting mode.

By slowing down and connecting...People feel seen and they feel valuable.

"By slowing down and connecting to those around you, people know you care," Ms Bevelander said. "People feel seen and they feel valuable."

Ms Bevelander said taking time to meaningfully connect with people was an incredibly powerful tool in suicide prevention. This could be as simple as knowing what was going on in each others' lives; knowing the ups and downs and slowing down to talk.

Ms Bevelander said research around RU OK Day showed 49 per cent of people were unsure what to do should someone say no, they were not okay, when asked the question.

"How we do this, demystifying it, is really helpful. This year's theme is about noticing the signs and trusting your gut there is a problem," Ms Bevelander said. "...Notice prompters and on top of that, it's really ensuring you're ready and willing to listen, to make time and space to sit and connect."

Ballarat Community Health and Ballarat Health Services each hosted RU OK Day events on Thursday. These included encouraging staff to stop and check in with each other.

BHS people and culture director Claire Woods said RU OK Day was fundamentally about caring, which health workers did so well, but it was a reminder for them to look out for each other.

"The work people do at BHS is incredibly challenging and we try and support people as best we can but the most significant support people can give each other in the workplace is that of a colleague, a friend, someone they work with who they trust," she said. "We want to encourage them to keep the conversation going."

If you or someone you know is in need of crisis support, phone Lifeline 13 11 14

Help is also available, but not limited, via the following organisations. They can also offer support in how to start the talk with someone.

The key message is you are not alone.

  • Beyond Blue 1300 224 636
  • Suicide Callback Service: 1300 659 467
  • Mens line: 1300 789 978
  • headspace Ballarat (for 12-25s): 5304 4777
  • Ballarat Community Health: 5338 4500
  • QLife: 1800 184 527
  • Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800

Take time to put the kettle on, check in and consider self-care

GRAB a cuppa and sit down for a chat, even if just a few minutes.

Ballarat Health Services staff were offering free teabags as part of RU OK Day promotions on Thursday, but hoped this message would linger far longer.

AR YOU OK?: Alisha Bedggood and Claire Woods took some time for a cuppa and self-care on R U OK? Day. Picture: Kate Healy

AR YOU OK?: Alisha Bedggood and Claire Woods took some time for a cuppa and self-care on R U OK? Day. Picture: Kate Healy

BHS health promotion manager Alisha Bedggood said people generally had the basic skills to ask the question - it was about taking the time to show you care. In doing so, Ms Bedggood said it could make a big difference in someone's life.

"You don't have to be a mental health clinician to ask that question," Ms Bedggood said. "It's the people usually working beside you, or at home, or in a social setting who are really great people to probably ask those initial questions first," Ms Bedggood said. "Hopefully those people then feel confident to support that person to get extra help."

BHS showcased health, well-being and welfare services across the region in a bid to promote wide-ranging supports available. A key part of this was encouraging self-care, like mini-meditations, Pilates and wholesome foods.

"The more and more we shine a light on mental health, the more important it is and more people will realise how important it is in many things we do," Ms Bedggood said. "Even with a physical injury sense, often mental health is a factor in that as well. The more often we normalise that the better off for our community."

If you or someone you know is in need of crisis support: Lifeline 13 11 14.