Mental health group SANE Australia has released new research it says challenges the long-held public perception that suicide is a selfish act.
About 2,500 Australians take their own lives each year, and the number of Australians who think about suicide is much higher still.
SANE’s suicide prevention manager Sarah Coker says the research shows people who try to take their own lives feel they are a burden on family and friends, and therefore for them, the act of suicide has positive rather than negative repercussions.
“I think that sense that it’s a selfish act is perhaps a lay person’s understanding of suicide,” she told The World Today.
“They’re looking at it from the perspective of people left behind and of course, those people are devastated.
“They had a distorted view that by removing themselves, by dying, by suicide, they’d actually improve the situation for the people that they love.
“So for them it was the opposite of a selfish act really. They had other people in mind.
“I think if we can increase people’s understanding about what it’s like for people in that space then hopefully we can reduce some of those misunderstandings that can lead to stigmatising attitudes.”
Ms Coker says rather than analysing the after effects of suicide, it is important to consider what leads people to take their own lives.
What this research found is that for a number of our participants at the time of them thinking about suicide, actually they were thinking about their loved ones and they had a distorted view I guess that by removing themselves, by dying, by suicide they’d actually improve the situation for the people that they love. So for them it was the opposite of a selfish act really.
SANE’s suicide prevention manager Sarah Coker
“Probably the most common feelings that people talked about at the time of the attempt was a feeling of hopelessness and just a sense that the pain that they were experiencing was never going to end,” Ms Coker said.
“One quote that jumps to mind is a lady who said ‘you know, you’re at a point where you can kind of convince yourself that perhaps things will get better or things might not end but you can get beyond that point where there just feels like there’s absolutely nothing that can help’.
“She said ‘it’s like feeling like you’re at the bottom of the well and there’s a lid on the well and there’s no lights coming through so there’s just no way out’.”
Ms Coker says the research, which is being presented by SANE Australia at the 2014 National Suicide Prevention Conference currently underway in Perth, will also provide information that will help prevent people from making another suicide attempt.
“The biggest barrier to people in their recovery was finding effective and ongoing treatments and professional support and conversely the thing that helped people the most was when they finally did find ongoing professional support,” she said.
“So that’s just such an important part of breaking this cycle, encouraging people to access support and also encouraging people working in mental health or health more generally to be understanding, to take people seriously and to really try and improve how people can access treatments and make sure that they don’t fall through the cracks.”
This article first appeared on ABC News
on 24 July 2014.