Every day, around eight Australians take their lives. These deaths represent tragic lost potential, and are devastating for families and others left behind. Around 200 Australians attempt suicide every day and many more think about it.
Remoteness is a major risk factor for suicide. Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows the likelihood of people dying by suicide increases the further away from a city they live.
It is vital, therefore, that rural health professionals have effective tools and strategies they can draw on to help protect people who are struggling. Suicide safety planning, a plan to keep people safe during a suicidal crisis, is one such important tool.
Research suggests that most people who attempt suicide don’t actually want to die; they simply want their psychological pain to stop.
“Often, when people are feeling suicidal, somewhere in their distress is a part of them, even if only a small part, that still wants to live - if only life wasn’t so hard,” said beyondblue clinician Dr Stephen Carbone.
“Health professionals can’t be with people 24/7, but by creating a safety plan with them, they can help put the part of the person that wants to live ‘in control’ when they are in crisis, so they can get through these tough moments.”
A safety planning tool developed and tested in the United States, Safety Planning Intervention (SPI), has been proven to be effective among American service veterans and other groups. It is now being used in Australia.
A suicide safety plan includes a series of easy-to-follow steps. Ideally, health professionals would assist someone to prepare a safety plan when the person is feeling calm.
The first step to creating a plan together is identifying the warning signs that may indicate the person is heading towards a suicidal crisis.
The following steps outline what individuals can do when they encounter those signs. This includes considering their reasons for living, using specific coping strategies, making their environment safe, and reaching out to others for support.
Nic, a member of beyondblue’s consumer reference group blueVoices, said the safety plan he prepared with his psychiatrist has proven incredibly helpful over the past few years.
“It’s just a big list of all the positive things in my life and the things that I know I’m good at. For those times, when I’m by myself and feeling depressed, knowing I have a list there with activities that will bring me up, and a long list of friends and professionals who I can call, is really key,” Nic said.
beyondblue and Monash University, with funding from the Movember Foundation, have developed BeyondNow – a smartphone app and website that helps people create a safety plan they can keep on their phone. The app is free to download from the App Store or Google Play store. It has already been downloaded around 10,000 times since it was launched in March 2016.
Health professionals can help people who are at risk of suicide to download the BeyondNow app on to their mobile phone, and follow the prompts for creating a suicide safety plan. The plan can be taken anywhere the person goes.
“It’s easy for a person to share a copy of their plan with their support network, including the general practitioner or other health professionals they assembled it with, and edit it if circumstances change.”
The BeyondNow website beyondblue.org.au/beyond-now features information for GPs and other health professionals on safety planning and information on the BeyondNow app, including advice for using it with clients.