Lessons for Life
Article by SANE Australia
What are the experiences of Australians who have attempted suicide? Much of the research into suicide and suicide prevention has focused on expert opinion, quantitative studies, or data from other countries. There is a gap in the literature regarding the exploration of the stories of Australians who attempt suicide and how such lived experience can inform improvements to our suicide prevention efforts.
SANE Australia, together with researchers from the University of New England, has examined the experiences of people who have attempted suicide in Australia, and released a qualitative research report.
“The aim of this research was to identify what can help or hinder people who attempt suicide. We wanted to add depth to our understanding and examine the complexity of factors that can help or hinder suicidal individuals,” explains Sarah Coker, Manager of SANE Australia’s Suicide Prevention Program. “We also wanted to give a voice to an often stigmatised and overlooked group of people, many of whom are eager to share their stories in order to try and help others who may be in a similar situation.”
Participants had to be over 18 years of age and have attempted suicide more than six months ago. A total of 31 telephone interviews were completed with 7 male and 24 female participants located throughout Australia. A risk assessment was conducted with each participant prior to the semi-structured interview. Of our sample, 23% had attempted suicide on one occasion, 32% 2-3 times, 39% 3 or more times, and 6% did not specify. The time since their last suicide attempt ranged from 6 months to 40 years.
Participants identified a number of psychosocial factors that were influential at the time of the attempt including: the impact of mental illness, suicide bereavement, lack of professional support, interpersonal relationship problems, pressures of work, drug and alcohol misuse, experiencing abuse or sexual assault, and being in year 12 or starting university. Mental illness and suicide bereavement were very prevalent within our sample with 87% and 58% of participants reporting these respectively.
Misunderstanding, stigma, and judgemental attitudes came from professionals and non-professionals alike. This was a key barrier to recovery that was highlighted by the participants. Of particular concern was the assumption that suicide is selfish or attention-seeking. Stigma and judgemental attitudes are pervasive and severely undermine people’s willingness to talk about their suicidal thoughts and feelings. It also hampers their willingness to seek and engage with professionals, especially when they have had negative or unhelpful experiences in the past.
“Attempted suicide is the single biggest risk factor to eventually dying by suicide, so by understanding how we can help and support people both before and after attempted suicide, we can work towards making a significant reduction in the suicide rate in Australia,” explains Jack Heath, CEO of SANE Australia.
The results highlight the complexity of factors that lead people to suicide, and the intense pain, hopelessness, and burdensomeness that people often feel around this time. Having supportive and positive interactions with health services and professionals is crucial to recovery, as is being understood and accepted by family and friends. A resounding message is that people who attempt suicide can recover, and they often possess a great deal of strength and determination having been through such turmoil.
“Based on these findings we can see a number of opportunities to improve suicide prevention initiatives and to better support people who have attempted suicide and their families,” Mr Heath added.
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