On May 1 this year, Lifeline hosted a particularly important event. It was the first National Stop Suicide Summit and it brought together leaders from a range of backgrounds to bring new thinking and new solutions to our national suicide emergency.
Yes, the word is emergency. Last year, suicide in Australia was at a 10-year high and in 2015, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, over 3,000 Australians took their own lives. For me, the issue came particularly close to home when in the space of a few months someone I know committed suicide and another acquaintance attempted it.
Clearly, our current approach to suicide isn’t working. Lifeline’s Peter Shmigel has pointed out that the health system alone cannot tackle the huge range of issues underpinning suicide. Shmigel sees the answer in a whole-of-community approach, a focus on compassionate support to people in need of help, one which includes technological innovation and innovative cross-sectoral measures that can stop suicide.
I’m proud to say Springday is already part of this approach. We’ve always adopted a holistic view of wellbeing, based on our five pillars of physical, emotional, social, financial and career wellbeing and increasingly, we’re seeing corporates become interested in the mental wellbeing of their employees. We’re responding to this by developing technology-based mental health resources and are talking to a range of people, including Fleur Hazelwood from the Blueberry Institute, who has created the Developing Personal Resilience e-learning course (currently validated by the University of Melbourne and piloted at Springday); Raw Minds and their Resilience at Work e-learning program, and Monash University’s Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance online course.
All of us have to join the fight against suicide and I think it’s sad we need a once-a-year summit to wake us up to that fact. Everyone at some stage goes through tremendous hard times, whether personal and professional, and if we’re talking about a whole-of-community approach then we need to work out how best to support each other to bounce back from, rather than giving in to, mental pressures.
So how can we best support the people around us? I’ve been looking into this and have boiled the research down into three steps:
Step 1 Look after yourself
This sounds selfish but it’s not. If you’re unhealthy, unhappy or despairing you can’t look after anyone else. So let’s start with the physical basics: get enough sleep, eat well, exercise regularly, avoid using drugs and alcohol to cope. You know the drill.
What about your mind? Here, I find meditation and mindfulness very helpful. (Yes, they’re buzzwords, but with good reason). In previous blogs I’ve spruiked the benefits of meditation and right now I’m seeing it for real in the life of my six-year-old son, Henry. He learns meditation at school and every night he falls asleep to guided meditation and deep breathing. Meditation doesn’t have to be long and difficult – for example, at Springday we use one-minute meditations in meetings, to quiet and focus our minds.
And what about your spirit? Some of you have faith to support you. Others don’t and this brings me to steps two and three, which are about looking after others. I’m placing these steps in the realm of the spiritual because I believe attending to the needs of others brings great spiritual rewards.
Step 2 Look after those you love
Especially children. Seems a no-brainer but children have special needs, whether in family or wider crises. In fact, the ABC has developed a practical and useful guide on how to cope with traumatic news, and the guide can be applied to helping kids cope with adversity in general.
The guide recommends not shielding children from bad news because keeping secrets isn’t possible, especially in this age of social media, and because trying to hide events just makes them more terrifying. Instead, the article encourages parents to explain what is happening, answer questions, focus on good news and provide comfort and affection.
What about partners, extended family, beloved friends? My advice is to show them you love them, forgive past quibbles if possible, and spend time with them. Approach them, rather than waiting to be asked. Listen, really listen, to what they say and what they mean.
Step 3 Be kind
This is the most important step and applies to the way you treat everyone. It doesn’t really need explaining and includes listening to people’s stories because you never know what’s going on underneath the surface, trying to see things from their point of view and asking them if they’re OK.
It boils down to the most fundamental of principles, namely to treat people as you’d like them to treat you. In two words: be kind.
Martin Luther King said, ‘We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny, Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.’ Suicide affects all of us so let’s not leave prevention to the system or to just one day of the year. Let’s all take on this responsibility and form a network of mutual support and kindness.
If you or someone you know are going through hard times, you might find this information useful:
Springday’s marketplace is growing. We’re very excited that our next marketplace feature iNSPIRE is finished. iNSPIRE is designed to educate adolescent boys and girls on what it means to be healthy, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. It's all about linking multiple aspects of wellbeing to create optimal health. Get more information from Samara.
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