Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.
A few months ago while driving to work, I passed a young woman on the side of the road.
She was sitting on a metal railing; her hands holding the bar on which she balanced, her legs slightly swinging.
Wearing a jumper and jeans—my go-to outfit for the weekend—her hair fell just past her shoulders, similar to mine.
But while I was safely tucked inside my car on the way to work, she was sitting on the railing of Brisbane’s Story Bridge—metres away from a sign encouraging those having suicidal thoughts to call Lifeline on a nearby telephone.
Just thinking about her makes my heart beat faster, my eyes fill with tears.
An ambulance was parked behind her, a vain attempt to form a barrier between her and the thousands of commuters driving past.
Behind her stood a police officer; a man who had most likely turned up for his shift not knowing that he would soon be faced with the unenviable task of convincing someone that their life is worth living.
But how do you do that? How do you convince someone you don’t know that life is full of hope and promise when all they can see is despair, loneliness and darkness?
I wanted to pull over that morning and run back to that girl, to show her that someone cared about her, but I’m not a trained counsellor and she didn’t need to see my tears.
She had enough to deal with as she sat perched on the cusp between life and death.
I shed hundreds of tears that morning; for her family, for the long road that lay ahead if she chose to climb down off her dangerous perch, for the heartbreaking news that would be delivered to her family and friends if she didn’t.
I struggled as I tried to understand the enormity of her situation, of her pain.
So much has happened in the months since that morning and yet barely a day goes by when I don’t drive over the bridge and think of her; I wonder if she’s okay and if she managed to get the help and support she needed.
Anyone who has lived through the suicide of a loved one knows that the above sentence is, of course, a massive understatement. But it’s also true.
It breaks hearts, tears families apart and leaves a void that no amount of time, therapy or love can truly heal.
According to the World Health Organisation, suicide is now a major worldwide epidemic which claims the lives of more than one million people per year—young people, old people, rich people, poor people.
The Australian statistics are frightening; an estimated 65,000 people attempt suicide each year (DoHA 2009) and more than 2,300 others will succeed (ABS 2013).
Forget car accidents or cancer, suicide remains the biggest killer of Australians aged 15 to 44 years (ABS 2013).
And for each suicide that makes it into the media, there are thousands more which do not—but that doesn’t mean they aren’t happening or that we shouldn’t make this subject a priority.
It’s just that no one can say definitively that publicising such a tragic event will—or won’t—cause others to copy their behaviour.
Self-harm now takes more lives than war, murder and natural disasters combined.
I need more than my fingers and toes to count the people I know directly affected by the suicide—or attempted suicide—of a loved one. Myself included.
That I know so many people touched by this epidemic is almost a tragedy in itself.
And it’s not just young people who are affected by mental illness, depression and suicidal thoughts. It’s people of all ages; people who are lonely or sad, who feel as though they are a burden on others and that it would be easier if they weren’t around.
This Thursday (12 September) is RUOK Day—a national day of action which aims to inspire meaningful conversations across the country to help reduce suicide in Australia.
According to the RUOK Foundation, research shows that people who have strong relationships are less likely to consider suicide as an option when struggling with life.
Regular, face-to-face conversations can help us to build and maintain strong relationships with friends and family, which is why we need to make a concerted effort to ensure them happen.
We should use this day as a chance to re-affirm our commitment to engaging with those around us and to ask our parents and children, colleagues and friends—‘are you okay?’.
It is so very important it is that we let people know that we’re there to help them, to support them through the dark times. To remind them that life is calling, that it’s worth fighting for.
And to let them know that when the fight gets too much, when they’re exhausted and ready to give up, that we will be there to pick them up and to fight on their behalf.
If you need urgent support or are worried about someone, please contact your local doctor or the agencies below (which operate 24 hours a day). If your need is life threatening, call 000.