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ADAVIC Suicide Awareness & Risk Assessment Training Session

Added 3 September 2019
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Trigger warning: In this article, Shaun’s informative and incredibly valuable presentation will be summarised in order to continue the conversation about suicide. This is a very important, sensitive, and often upsetting topic that is close to a lot of our hearts. Please be mindful that the topic of suicide makes up the bulk of this article and may not be suitable for all readers. 
As many of you would be aware, the Anxiety Disorders Association of Victoria runs several professional development and training workshops on a number of different topics surrounding mental illness and intervention. One such program is the Suicide Awareness & Risk Assessment Training session. This one-day workshop is undertaken by all ADAVIC volunteers as part of their training for office, support group, and Facebook administrator roles. 

Presented by Shaun Walsh, with a wealth of knowledge and experience in the area of mental health crisis intervention, the session aimed to educate and inform students and professionals within the psychology field about the 3 R’s of suicide prevention:

Recognise: how to recognise the warning signs of someone at risk of suicide and what questions you can ask a person you have these concerns about
Respond: how to respond to a person who is experiencing suicidal thoughts or has a plan to complete suicide
Refer: who and where to get help for someone at risk of attempting suicide, and the ‘duty of care’ 

Some common myths about suicide 

  • “Talking about suicide with someone who is at risk will ‘plant the idea in their head’ or encourage them”
Given the stigma surrounding suicide, often paired with feelings of shame and guilt, many people contemplating suicide don’t know who to reach out to. Asking someone if they are feeling suicidal may give them the opportunity and time to voice and process these difficult thoughts, therefore decreasing their risk of acting on them. Another point to consider here is that suicide (although not often brought up in daily conversation) is not a secret. If you are concerned enough about someone to believe they may be at risk, you won’t be “inspiring” someone to complete suicide by bringing it up. Suicidal thoughts or ‘ideations’ are quite common among people suffering from mental illness, and not limited to this population, which leads to the next common myth about suicide…

  • “Only people who have a mental illness have suicidal thoughts”
In reality, there a number of other factors that can put someone at risk of contemplating suicide, for example, one of the biggest risk factors associated with suicide is a recent loss or bereavement (i.e. losing a job, the death of a spouse or close loved one, financial burden). 

  • “If someone who has been depressed suddenly appears to feel much better, the danger of suicide is over”
This is actually a “red flag” and something that indicates an increased risk to this person’s safety. If someone you know who has been showing symptoms of depression (see our website or Beyond Blue for more information) for a period of time and they go through a sudden shift in mood, appear calm or “emotionless” when reflecting on their situation, or lose motivation to change their circumstances, this may be a sign that they have made a decision to put a suicide plan in place. While this decision is only a thought (and can be undone), people often feel a sense of relief or “weight off their shoulders” that they will be free of their intense pain. 

  • “Most suicides occur without warning, or after one sudden, traumatic event”
Whilst some suicides occur unexpectedly or after the sudden loss of a loved one or employment, as previously discussed, there are a number of warning signs that someone is feeling suicidal that commonly present in the weeks leading up to a person taking their own life. This topic was approached with both sensitivity and honesty by Shaun in the workshop. We discussed both the comfort the bereaved can feel in believing that there was nothing they could do to prevent their heartbreaking loss, by diffusing responsibility for not picking up on any potential warning signs that could be recognised in hindsight, as well as the importance of empowering people with the skills to recognise and act on these warning signs before the fact. Warning signs are discussed further below. 

A brief snapshot of suicide in Australia… is there a problem?

The following are statistics on suicide in Australia, which have been collated by workshop presenter Shaun Walsh, sourced from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2017). 

  • 2,795 people completed suicide each year on average between 2012 and 2016. That’s an average of almost 8 deaths each day in Australia due to suicide, and more than double the yearly road toll in Australia.
  • In 2016 for NSW, QLD, SA, WA and NT the standardised death rate by suicide for Indigenous and Torres Strait Island Australians was twice the rate for non-Indigenous Australians.
  • Males are at more than three times higher risk of death by suicide than females. 
  • Among males, the age groups at highest risk are ages 85+ years, followed by 15-19 years
  • Among females, the age groups at highest risk are 50-54 and 15-19 years of age

These statistics were shocking and saddening to hear, as they may be to read. However, it is imperative that these statistics are more widely known in order for suicide and suicide prevention to get the attention, support, and funding required to make real gains in lowering these numbers. 

Common suicidal warning signs

This is a brief list of some things to look out for that could suggest someone is contemplating suicide:

  • Withdrawing from social circles and regular activities
  • Unkept appearance or poor hygiene 
  • Reckless or risky behaviour that seems out of character
  • Giving away sentimental or valuable possessions
  • Making or updating arrangements for properties, assets, wills, funerals etc.
  • Alcohol and other drug abuse
  • Insomnia
  • Expressing feelings of hopelessness and an inability to picture a future for themselves, e.g. “What is the point in feeling like this anymore?” “I don’t want to wake up in the morning” “Everyone would be better off without me”

If something not on this list triggers a feeling that someone isn’t safe, always trust your gut and follow the 3R’s.

How can you help?

  • Ask clearly and directly about suicide. There is no room for misinterpretation in a situation where someone may be planning to take their own life, say “suicide” when asking someone this question, not “Are you going to hurt yourself?” – suicidality and self-harm are separate often very different emotional experiences. 
  • Offer support. This can be as simple as telling them that you understand that they are in a lot of pain and that you care. It is not up to one person to help someone who is suicidal, but it can take just one person to ask and listen to prevent someone taking their life. This is something that we role played in the workshop in small groups and like everything, it  gets easier with practice. 
  • Get professional support and involve others. If you believe that someone is suicidal and is going to carry out a plan to end their life, immediately contact emergency services (Ambulance and/or Police) on 000. In the event that a conversation has been had where suicidal thoughts or intent have been identified, there are a number of crisis intervention services available that the person should be encouraged to contact themselves (see list below) so that they feel in control and involved in their care. 

Crisis & after-hours support

  • Suicide Line Victoria (Victoria): 1300 651 251
  • Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
  • Lifeline: 13 11 14
  • Crisis Assessment Team at your nearest major hospital
  • Emergency Department at your nearest major hospital

This one-day Suicide Risk & Awareness Training Session comes highly recommended by all ADAVIC volunteers as it is a great way to build the confidence and skill set required to provide effective crisis assessment and intervention in any role within the psychology field. If you are interested, please contact the office at 
A special thank you to Shaun Walsh for sharing his experience and knowledge with all of us who attended on the day. The work you do is truly inspiring to us all and invaluable to our community. 

Written by Eryn – ADAVIC Volunteer

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