Linda Nyikos knows first hand the impact of suicide and mental health issues - and wants more people to be aware of how to help someone in a crisis.
The Ararat resident lost her husband, Craig, to suicide in 2007, and has had her own journey with "suicidal ideation".
Ms Nyikos now works with the Ararat Suicide Prevention Awareness Group.
"Craig had been unwell for two or three years and had had multiple attempts at suicide," she said.
"He would have appointments with mental health professionals and he would not keep those appointments, and it was really hard to get him to engage in the mental health system.
"I was really unwell myself at the time with my own mental health. We had two kids who were 16 and 18 when Craig died.
"So that's why I'm so passionate about suicide prevention. We just lose too many people.
"I have an image in my mind of family photos and there's just a black shadow where Craig should be."
Ms Nykios said she had had her "own journey with suicidal ideation, and the most recent was talked about at R U OK? Day, that I wasn't okay".
She said there were several indicators that helped her realise she wasn't okay.
"I'd been driving, coming home from Ballarat, driving over 160 kilometres per hour. Now I normally drive at the speed limit ... so it was reckless behaviour," she said.
Beyond Blue lists reckless behaviour as one of the signs a person may be suicidal, along with social withdrawal, a drop in mood, insomnia, alcohol or drug abuse, and anger.
"That was when I realised I needed to go to Melbourne and get some treatment,"Ms Nykios said.
Don't be scared to use the word suicide.Linda Nyikos
It was key to ask a person "are you feeling suicidal or are you having thoughts of suicide" if you suspected somebody was feeling suicidal, Ms Nykios said.
"You need to be specific and ask that, and don't be scared to use the word suicide," she said.
"You're not going to put that idea in someone's mind. That's not what happens.
"Ask it straight and ask it early - if you've got someone you're concerned about it needs to be brought into the conversation very early."
Ms Nyikos said that "most times they're going to really appreciate" being asked the question.
"For them to be able to say 'yes I am', that really opens up the conversation. That can really help them realise they need help."
Helping in a crisis
Asking early and directly is the first step in a series designed to provide mental health first aid to someone in crisis.The next step is asking the person if they have a plan on how to carry it out.
"If they have a plan, you then ask have they got the means for that plan," Ms Nyikos said.
If the person has a plan but doesn't have the ability to carry it out, Ms Nyikos said it's then "about making sure they can guarantee to you that they are going to be safe".
If the person in crisis does have a plan and the ability to carry it out, calling the hospital or ringing Triple Zero is an option. "The emergency department at the hospital is fantastic and if you've got someone where you're concerned about their immediate safety take them to the hospital, or ring Triple Zero," Ms Nyikos said.
Another option for anyone not sure what to do is to ring the 24-hour Suicide Callback Service on 1300 659 467 for advice.
Ms Nyikos said sometimes people can be hesitant to take action because they fear the reaction of the person in crisis, such as anger.
"Every life matters. If you think that there is an immediate risk to someone's life, you want to do what you can to preserve that life," she said.
"Personally, I'd rather they be cross at me because that means they are alive. You can be really suicidal and then you get that treatment and you feel so different.
"I'd rather lose a friendship than a friend.
"The other thing is if they don't want to you to ring Triple Zero, they may instead agree for you to stay with them, and get them through that crisis point."
In 2018 an average of 8.3 people per day lost their lives to suicide in Australia. Statistically more men lose their lives to suicide than women.
Australian Bureau of Statistics 2018 data states it was the 10th leading cause of death for males that year, and was the 14th leading cause of death for all genders.
In fact, the frequency of suicide in Australia is so troubling that in the decade to 2016 the Australian government increased spending on suicide prevention from $1.5 million to $49.1 million.
The federal government added more cash to the cause in the 2019 federal budget, investing almost half a billion dollars into mental health and suicide prevention.
The problem is even more prevalent in regional and rural parts of Australia. In 2016, the number of suicides per 100,000 people in rural and remote Australia was 50 per cent higher than in the cities.
Life Mind Australia lists some of the risk factors specific to regional and rural areas as:
- limited access to comprehensive support services, including fewer visits to GPs for mental health issues;
- increased access to means (particularly firearms);
- being a farmer and agricultural worker;
- lower help-seeking behaviours (particularly by rural men);
- economic change due to natural disasters or climate change;
- increased socioeconomic disadvantage and limited access to culturally appropriate services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;
- intergenerational trauma, particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities;
- discrimination and lack of specialised services for priority populations such as young people, older people and LGBTI people.
Grampians Pyrenees PCP health promotion coordinator Lauren Dempsey said bringing the issue out into the open can help improve outcomes for people at risk.
"It is important to speak openly to someone who is struggling and assess the situation as it presents," she said.
"Asking someone if they are okay can be vital to begin with. If they say they are not okay you can delve deeper and ask them what is wrong or if there is anything you can do to help.
"The best thing to do is listen without judgement to what they have to say. It is important to listen with the intention of really listening not with the intention to respond. You do not always need to know exactly what to say or be in fear of saying the wrong thing.
"Generally, people want to be and feel heard without fear of judgement. If someone is showing signs of suicide or suicidal thoughts it is important to let that person know that they are not alone.
"Being alone with thoughts of suicide is one thing that is known to increase the risk of harm or death."
Ms Dempsey said the best thing to do is offer to listen to someone who is struggling and follow the basic steps of mental health first aid:
- Approach, assess, assist;
- Listen non-judgementally;
- Give support and information;
- Encourage appropriate professional help;
- Encourage other supports;
- There are local support services that you can offer to someone who is having suicidal ideation - Grampians Community Health, headspace, Ballarat Psychiatric Services, online and telephone services are also available such as beyond blue, Lifeline and Kids Help Line.
For more information, visit these links:
It's also really important that you take time out to look after your own well-being while caring for others.
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