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Dr Duncan

Suicide watch

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What began as a normal Sunday morning some 29 years ago, ended up being a troubled memory that has lingered with me ever since. Our children were little and I was working in a small country town in northern Victoria, and life was good as the country doctor in my adopted home of Australia.

Just before lunch there was a knock on the front door and through the glass I saw the impressively tall figure of our local country policeman, Norm, a gentle giant if ever one walked this earth.

For a normally very happy guy, Norm had a very sad face: “Sorry Doc, but I’m afraid we’ve got a bad one about 5ks out in the bush” he said. “Can you come with me to certify him, because we can’t move him until you do”. Thus began a tragic and traumatic time whereby I went with Norm to the spot where a young man had gone into the bush with a rifle and fatally shot himself in the head the night before.

Suicides never occur in isolation, and they never finish with the tragedy that is the death of the very troubled individual. In fact they reverberate from one generation to the next such is the enormous emotional impact of them on family and others affected by them. But if that is the impact on we observers, what must be the emotional torment of those who find themselves in the position of deciding that death is preferable to life? How can life have stripped them of all hope of a light in their darkness and what a desolate isolation that must be.

Mood disorders and tragic deaths are always headline stuff and most of us would shake our heads, not in judgment, but because -thank goodness - most of us just cannot imagine not preferring life over death, and hope is a natural part of everyday life. Yet for those who suffer from severe, melancholic depression, the very word hope is devoid of any emotional impact whatsoever, and these poor people survive in a shadow world from which it is almost impossible to have any meaningful communication with those around them.

In Australia more than 2,000 people commit suicide annually, with approximately three quarters of those being men: Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders are at particularly high risk too. On a State by State analysis, WA is ranked about third equal behind Tasmania and the Northern Territory. It’s one league table we would all love to be the bottom of.

Risk Factors for Suicide - this is not a comprehensive list but contains some of the more common factors that can lead someone to self harm

  • Having a prior suicide attempt
  • Having an underlying psychiatric disorder, such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Being intoxicated — a large percentage of suicides are committed under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Having a substance abuse problem
  • Behaving recklessly or impulsively
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Having a family history of mental disorders or substance abuse
  • Having a family history of suicide or violence, including physical or sexual abuse
  • Recently undergoing a stressful life event, such as the loss of a loved one or a breakup
  • Having firearms in your home - particularly important for rural males
  • Having a significant medical illness, such as cancer or chronic pain
  • Feeling socially isolated or lonely
  • Having legal problems
  • Having trouble in school, social problems or disciplinary problems if you are a child or young adult
  • Being male — men are more likely than women to complete suicide because they typically use more lethal means, such as a firearm
  • Being homosexual with an unsupportive family or in a hostile environment
  • Being a man age 65 or older
(Adapted from the Mayo Clinic)

For those who have been affected by a family member, friend or work colleague who has committed suicide, most are left with the sorts of thought processes that begin “If only .....” and which almost always lead nowhere. The number of those impacted by a suicide annually is 2,000 times perhaps ten? If it is, then each year 20,000 Australians have a direct and awful association with suicide and for all of you, I offer this suggestion to try and bury those “If only” thoughts once and forever.

We need to go on the offensive: we need to be more vigilant in looking for warning signs amongst those in our “sphere of influence” so that we can have an impact for good for those who are suffering. And we need to Actively Support all those organizations, communities, volunteers and fund-raisers who are already out there doing their bit to help reduce the rate of suicide in Australia.

We will all need the help of others at some points during our lives, and the vast majority of us will happily ask for that help. But we also need to be aware that there are those who have forgotten that help is there, or haven’t the will to seek that help needed to be there for them, to carry them and to show them that even though it might just be a glimmer, hope cannot be fully extinguished. And each one of us can be a sign of that hope.

Article written by Dr. Duncan Jefferson. More articles here. For more information on health care and private health cover, visit HBF Insurance at www.hbf.com.au.

The content of these articles is not tailored for any particular individual's circumstances. The author does not take into account your physical condition, medical history or any medication you may be taking. Any advice or information provided by the author cannot replace the advice of your health care professional. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent those of HBF unless clearly indicated.

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