Female suicide prevention: open hearts and minds
It’s time to increase awareness of female suicide risk.
Female suicide is on the rise, with a recent report from Suicide Prevention Australia showing that suicide numbers among women have increased each year for the past three years.
“This needs to be on the public agenda because there’s not only been an increase in the number of women who have been dying as a result of suicide over the last three years… but there is also a shift in the way women are electing to take their own lives and they’re using more violent means,” explains Sue Murray, CEO of Suicide Prevention Australia.
The reasons for this increase are unclear as yet, and more research is needed to determine that picture, but it’s certain that the figures become even more concerning when we zoom in further.
- Suicide occurs mainly in younger age groups of women, accounting for 25% of deaths 15-24 year-olds, compared with less than 5% for older women
- There is also a widespread issue with intentional self-harm: the number of women aged 15-24 who are hospitalised due to self-injury has increased by more than 50% since 2000
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women aged 15-24 have five times the suicide rate compared with their non-Indigenous counterparts
- There are some indications that people of LGBTI experience have a significantly higher level of suicidal behaviour
The push for widespread awareness and action
While talk around suicide awareness often focuses on men, these concerning statistics show we need to widen the conversation. “We don’t want to diminish the emphasis that is being given to reducing suicide among men,” says Murray, “but we certainly need to put our eye on the ball in relation to women, because of this upward trend.”
With 637 women dying from suicide in 2013, it’s clear that actions can no longer only be male-centric solutions like the Mates in Construction or the Men’s Shed initiatives. While there may be some common ground between what works for men and women, Murray believes a deeper understanding needs to be gained.
“It’s a bit like saying one size will fit all, and that’s not true, one size won’t fit all. We’ve done a lot of work in trying to understand how we can get our messages through to men and how our treatments and services can respond to the needs of men, and we’ve not even considered doing the same for women.”
Suicide Prevention Australia has an ambitious target to halve the number of suicides in the next ten years, and this will require a continuous level of awareness among women. “If we can make an increased investment – and not decrease our investment in men, but increase our investment in researching and designing programs and services that are specifically directed to supporting women – then we are going to come a long way forward,” says Murray.
What these strategies should be is yet to be determined; for now, Suicide Prevention Australia is campaigning for the research to take place.
From an individual perspective
In day-to-day terms, there are ways we can all look out for others and help them find the help they need. “It’s a matter of understanding what the indicators are which might increase an individual’s risk of suicidal behaviour, and then to ensure that we understand what services and programs are available to direct those individuals to,” says Murray.
Of course, those risk factors will be different for everyone and may vary at different stages of life. As an idea, there are several stressors that cause vulnerability to women specifically, which include perinatal depression, loss of financial security and domestic violence.
Ultimately, the best thing you can do is to connect with the people around you: your family, friends, acquaintances and work colleagues. Murray says, “It is very easy to listen to someone with an open heart and an open mind.”
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