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Austrailans urged to confront suicide -

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Australians urged to confront suicide

The World Today - Thursday, 4 September , 2008 12:22:00

Reporter: Simon Lauder

ELEANOR HALL: The Salvation Army has launched a national campaign today to tackle Australia's high
rate of suicide. It's urging all Australians to take an active role in reducing the suicide rate
that's higher than the national road toll.

The Salvation Army says it's a myth that only experts can prevent suicide and says people need to
stop ignoring the warning signs.

Simon Lauder has our report.

SIMON LAUDER: Cindy Mills has been mourning her 17-year-old daughter Victoria for about two years.

CINDY MILLS: She was beautiful, intelligent and I had absolutely no suspicion that something like
this would happen.

I spoke to Victoria the night before; I was with her. I took her shopping, dropped her off at her
place. And she rang me later excited about seeing her best friend the next day, so I said I'd
collect her and I arrived to find her door unlocked so I let myself in. And I kind of expected to
see her asleep but instead I found her and it's something that no parent should ever have to see.

SIMON LAUDER: Victoria was one of 1,799 suicides in Australia in 2006.

The latest figures show about nine suicide deaths per 100,000 compared to 15 since the peak of
1997.

The director of the Salvation Army's Suicide Prevention and Bereavement Support Program, Alan
Staines, says that's still an average of one suicide in Australia every five hours.

ALAN STAINES: Well it's more than the national road toll. But very little is said about the tragedy
of the number of lives we are losing to suicide. It's a national tragedy and we've got to do
something about it.

SIMON LAUDER: The Salvation Army has today launched a new suicide prevention campaign which
encourages everyone to take responsibility.

Alan Staines says he wants every Australian to do a simple, on-line training program which will
encourage people to confront, rather than ignore suicide warning signs.

ALAN STAINES: You know, it could be your next door neighbour. It could be someone at work. What
we're saying is suicide prevention is everybody's business. We can all play a part.

In the past we would just say, "Oh that's not my cup of tea; I'll leave that up to the
professionals." You know, you can ask the question, "Are you thinking of harming yourself?",
without even asking a word about suicide. And sometimes that gives them the opportunity to express
how they're feeling and then you can go from there to really give them positive help. And suicide
in the main is preventable.

SIMON LAUDER: But aren't most people, I guess, afraid of confronting that and perhaps you know,
they'll be too blunt and create a backlash or something?

ALAN STAINES: This is what this program is all about, you know, knowing how and what to say. And
that's why I say it's one of empowerment and giving the knowledge and education and awareness and
what to do and what to say.

SIMON LAUDER: If you aren't properly trained, is there a risk that you'll make them angry and
increase the risk of suicide?

ALAN STAINES: No, there used to be the myth, by talking about suicide you'll tip the person over
the edge, but that's not right, you know. By asking the questions in many cases just relieves the
person to be able to talk about the problems they're going through, you know.

It's far better to ask the question than remain silent and then face with the disaster of someone
taking their lives.

SIMON LAUDER: Cindy Mills supports the Salvation Army's new approach. She says it's information she
wishes she had two years ago.

CINDY MILLS: Victoria did not fit my idea of somebody who would commit suicide which was, you know,
someone older, desperate. You know, when I look back and Victoria would say things like, "Oh, if
this doesn't happen, I may as well kill myself", when she was, you know, 15.

You just sort of wonder, oh, is that just a teenager throwing a tantrum? And then you kind of
think, "Well if I talk seriously about this, is that going to then put the idea in their head?" So
that is a massive myth that's out there.

SIMON LAUDER: As well as encouraging people to learn about the warning signs of suicide, the
Salvation Army has set up a phone line to support loved ones who are left to grieve.

Alan Staines says that's usually about eight people for each life lost.

ALAN STAINES: Yeah, we're looking at about 16,000 a year, people who have been bereaved by suicide.
Now, many of those are at risk of suicide themselves and so what we're doing with the bereaved is
doing prevention as well as support for them. It's stopping further suicides.

SIMON LAUDER: The campaign has the support of the National Advisory Council on Suicide Prevention.
Its chairman Professor Ian Webster says suicide prevention should become a national health
priority.

ELEANOR HALL: Simon Lauder with that report.