National campaign needed to raise understanding about suicide

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A national education campaign is needed to address misconceptions about suicide, according to recommendations in a report into the experiences of people who attempt to take their own lives.

Lessons for Life, a joint research project between SANE Australia and the University of New England, found that judgment from both health professionals and friends or family hindered the recovery of people who had attempted suicide.

SANE Australia’s suicide prevention manager Sarah Coker said people interviewed for the project overwhelmingly felt the stigma of mental illness and suicide prevented people from seeking help.

“They were very keen to reduce the stigma about suicide so people feel more comfortable talking about when they are not doing well,” she said.

“If they are having thoughts of suicide they won’t be too scared to say that because they are worried about how people will react.”

A number of participants, who ranged in age from their teens to their 70s, pointed out that a suicide attempt is wrongly trivialised as a cry for attention.

“They wanted to get quite a strong message across that the attempt was not attention-seeking, that suicide is not a selfish act,” Ms Coker said.

“Unfortunately, these people feel like a burden on others and that by removing themselves they are doing others a favour. It is distorted but they are in such a bad way, that is the way they were thinking at that time.”

The report and accompanying video provides an rare glimpse into the recovery process for people who have survived a suicide attempt.

Ms Coker said participants volunteered to take part because they felt it was important to show there can be a way forward.

“Nearly all the participants came back afterwards to say they found the process to be quite a cathartic experience,” she said.

“They were overwhelmingly motivated by the desire to help others. They wanted to turn something that had been a very negative experience in their life into a positive experience.”

Participants said their recovery was aided by finding effective professional help as well as support from friends and family.

Difficulty in finding appropriate help was the most commonly reported barrier to recovery, with 80 per cent of participants describing negative experiences with the hospital system. One-third said they felt they were not taken seriously or misunderstood and a large proportion reported having difficulty being admitted or being discharged too early.

The report recommends improving professional services by educating health workers about the importance of supporting people who have attempted suicide and working with hospitals to raise the standards of admission and discharge procedures.

Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians under the age of 44, claiming 2,535 lives in 2012.

Support service Lifeline is raising awareness about suicide with a series of public walks on September 10, Suicide Prevention Day.

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