R U OK? Day

Understanding the impact of COVID-19 on Suicide Risk

R U Ok? Day is a national suicide prevention initiative developed in 2009 that encourages us to take action and ask ‘Are you ok?’ to anyone who might be struggling with life. This year, R U OK? day is on Thursday 10th September 2020.

Statistics prior to the current coronavirus pandemic show that over 3,000 Australians die from suicide each year, equating to more than 8 Australians a day. So far, 2020 has been a particularly challenging and difficult year for many.  COVID-19 has had a huge impact on the way most of us live our lives, whether it is not being able to leave the house, not being able to see loved ones, losing income or financial security, or our sense of freedom.

More than ever, it is vital to be able to spot signs of suicide risk and engage in meaningful conversations to safely support those who are struggling. Therefore, this month we will look at what suicidal thoughts are, the impact of COVID-19 on suicide risk, and how you can help this R U OK? Day.

Acacia EAP R U OK? Sessions

With the unwavering challenges presented by COVID-19, acknowledgement of this year’s R U OK? Day seems more important than ever. Acacia is proud offer free webinars throughout the day, and we encourage you and your peers to participate.

Session One
Date:   Thursday 10th September
Time:   10:00 AM (Brisbane)
Topic:   R U OK? Day
Link:     Register Online

Session Two
Date:   Thursday 10th September
Time:   12:00 PM (Brisbane)
Topic:   R U OK? Day
Link:     Register Online

Session Three
Date:   Thursday 10th September
Time:   14:00 PM (Brisbane)
Topic:   R U OK? Day
Link:     Register Online

Understanding Suicide

What are suicidal thoughts?
Suicidal thoughts are thoughts a person has about wanting to end their life.  These thoughts include consideration of suicide or planning. Suicidal thoughts can include thoughts such as:
  • Thinking they are a burden on others and that their death will benefit loved ones
  • Wanting relief from physical/psychological/emotional pain
  • Feeling that their death would not matter

Over 2.1 million Australians have suicidal thoughts at some point in their life, with over 600,000 making a suicide plan and over 500,000 attempting suicide. Suicidal thoughts do not necessarily lead to suicide, but often they can become more frequent and intense over time if left unaddressed.

What causes someone to have suicidal thoughts?
There is not one cause of suicide, but it always begins with a thought. Suicidal behaviour is incredibly complex and often suicidal thoughts arise due to a combination of inter-related factors such as stressful life events, mental illness, grief and loss, financial stress, trauma exposure, physical illness and/or genetics.

Suicide and COVID-19

The uncertainty around COVID-19 has led to many people feeling helpless and hopeless about life and the future. Being stuck at home with less distractions and less ability to do the things that we love can result in feelings of isolation, disconnection from the world and low mood.  This can lead to more opportunity for suicidal thoughts to arise.

Research is emerging showing the significant impact COVID-19 is having on mental health. A recent study led by the University of New South Wales and the Black Dog Institute found that 78% of 5,000 Australians studied reported that their mental health had become worse since the start of the pandemic.

In addition, research from the Brain and Mind Centre predicts that there will be a 25-50% increase in suicides over the next five years.

What are the signs someone might need support?

Have a look around you at the people in your life and consider whether there have been any changes to their behaviour lately that might give you the indication they are not ok.  Look out for changes in their physical appearance.  Changes in their mood.  Changes in their behaviour.  Or changes in how they are expressing their thoughts.

Are they displaying any of the following warning signs?

  • Looking more tired or flat than usual
  • Withdrawing from family, friends or work colleagues
  • Loss of interest in things they previously enjoyed
  • Irritability, mood swings or becoming easily upset
  • Self-harming (e.g. cutting or not eating)
  • Risky behaviour (e.g. excessive alcohol or drug use)
  • Mentioning suicide and/or death
  • Thinking the worst or struggling to see a positive side
  • Stopping making plans for the future
  • Giving items or belongings away or wrapping up their affairs

How can I help? Four steps to follow this R U Ok? Day

Despite the worrying statistics around suicide, it is possible to prevent suicide. Suicidal thoughts are linked to feelings of disconnection, isolation and feeling unsupported. Therefore, by simply asking how people are and offering your support, you can help combat these feelings of isolation for others and help guide them to appropriate help.

R U OK? Day promotes four conversation steps to give you the skills and confidence to navigate a conversation with someone you are worried about.

Before starting a conversation, ensure you are ready, prepared and pick your moment.  Ensure you are in a good headspace to engage in the conversation and have time available.  Be prepared by understanding that if you ask how someone is going, the answer could be that they are not ok.  Remember that you do not need to fix someone’s problems or have all the answers.  And pick your moment to ensure you have chosen a relatively private space, that suits them as well as you.

Step 1: Ask R U Ok?

Ask R U Ok?

  • Be relaxed, friendly and concerned in your approach
  • Help them open up by asking questions like “How are you going?” or “What’s been happening?”
  • Mention specific things that have made you concerned for them, like “You seem less chatty than usual. How are you going?”

If they don’t want to talk, don’t criticise them and avoid confrontation of forcing them to engage in a conversation with you.  Confirm that you are concerned about the changes you’ve noticed and that you care about them.  You could say “Please call me if you ever want to chat”, or “Is there someone else you’d rather talk to?”

Step 2: Listen

Listen without judgement, and with an open mind.  Show them that they are supported and take what they say seriously.

  • Don’t judge their experiences or reactions but acknowledge that things seem tough for them
  • If they need time to think, sit patiently with the silence
  • Encourage them to explain: “How are you feeling about that?” or “How long have you felt that way?”
  • Show that you have listened by repeating back what you’ve heard (in your own words) and ask if you have understood them properly

Step 3: Encourage Action

Help them find strategies to better manage the load.  Remember that you do not need to have all the answers but encourage them to seek the support they need.  Be positive about the role of professionals in supporting us through tough times.

  • Ask: “What have you done in the past to manage similar situations?”
  • Ask: “How would you like me to support you?”
  • Ask: “What’s something you can do for yourself right now? Something that’s enjoyable or relaxing?”
  • If they’ve been feeling really down for more than 2 weeks, encourage them to see a health professional. You could say, “It might be useful to link in with someone who can support you. I’m happy to assist you to find the right person to talk to.”

Step 4: Check-in

Staying in touch and following up shows genuine care and concern and can make a real difference.

  • Pop a reminder in your diary to call them in a few days, or a week or two.
  • You could say: “I’ve been thinking of you and wanted to know how you’ve been going since we last chatted.”
  • Ask if they’ve found a better way to manage the situation. If they haven’t done anything, don’t judge them. They might just need someone to listen to them for the moment.

Final Words

How to Practice and Get Tips 
R U Ok? have released resources for you to use every day, in a variety of settings.  This includes work, school and a variety of communities such as Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander, hospitality, LGBTIQ and rural regions.  Further details on these initiatives and resources can be found here – https://www.ruok.org.au/every-day-resources

Where to Get Help 
Whether you are concerned about a colleague, family member, friend, manager or acquaintance, you can contact the following support services
  • Call or give the number for your EAP, Acacia Connection
    • 1300 364 273
    • www.eapcounselling.com.au
  • Speak to your manager, supervisor or HR if you are concerned about someone at work or need support at work
  • Connect the person to a GP
  • Encourage them to contact Lifeline on 13 11 14
  • If you believe someone is in immediate danger, contact 000
This R U OK? Day, reach out to someone you haven’t spoken to in a while and check in with how they are. You never know the difference it can make in a time where people need support now more than ever.

Reference 
R U Ok? – A national suicide prevention charity that aims to start life-changing conversations (ruok.org.au)

If you or someone close to you needs support, contact Acacia EAP for an appointment.

P: 1300 364 273 | Text or Live Chat: 0401 337 711 | W: acaciaconnection.com

"The safety and wellbeing of our clients and staff is always our top priority. Acacia EAP is currently operating under normal conditions. Due to the pandemic status of COVID-19, some locations may move from face-to-face counselling to secure video or phone. All counselling services are able to be provided 24/7, as always. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and act quickly on the advice of health authorities."