The Diary of Dr. Sharon McDonnell

Aged 53 and 3/4

I have been in Australia a total of six days and it has made me realise just how much communities in the UK struggle to refer to the word ‘suicide.’  For example, many health professionals are anxious to ask their patients if they feel suicidal in case they say yes! Families are often afraid to say the ‘S’ word in case it plants this seed into the person they are worrying about.  If we are afraid to ask, or even say the word – how must the suicidal feel?  I don’t want to state the obvious but people who are feeling suicidal are not also stupid! They are aware that often they are almost forbidden to say the word or make this disclosure. Many of those who participate in my research describe the sense of helplessness when they see the fear in other people’s faces, especially if it is a health professional.  Our communities in the UK are hardly conducive for people to talk openly about these frightening and often overwhelming emotions and seek help.

Australia is effectively tackling this extremely sensitive issue head on. Respect to them for daring to address it.  They use all mediums to relay the message about mental health, suicide, risk and support to the general population.  I am guessing that it must be a Government initiative, but I have yet to confirm this.  I personally think the National Suicide Prevention Strategy for England should consider adopting a similar approach.

Must admit when I first arrived in Australia it was a bit of a shock. Now that might come as a surprise as I work in this field.  Initially it seemed a bit much when I am sat in McDonald’s and numerous adverts where on the TV during the 30 minutes I was sat there, talking about mental health, suicide, suicide rates, where to seek help etc.  I have travelled through two states during the past week and thus, listened to numerous radio stations. They are also openly talking about mental ill health, suicide, suicidal ideation, where to seek help in their advertisements.  The most interesting thing is after a couple of days of being exposed to this repeated message about suicide and where to seek help, I no longer notice it anymore.  This is my point. It had become normal to hear this message.  However, I would argue that it sends the following message to those who are feeling suicidal

i)                    that they are not alone; and

ii)                   that their community cares about them.

The suicide rate in the UK has increased.  We need to think of innovative ways in which we can care for and engage with those who are suicidal, break the taboo and fear of talking about suicide within our communities – almost think outside the box. I am learning that Australia is daring to do just that.