A lived experience of suicide is having experienced suicidal thoughts, survived a suicide attempt, cared for someone through suicidal crisis, or been bereaved by suicide.
Roses in the Ocean is a leading organisation for lived experience of suicide in Australia. Roses in the Ocean are focussed on building a safe, trained and supported lived experience 'workforce' with the expertise and skills needed to bring the lived experience as a voice of change in all aspects of suicide prevention through conducting capacity building workshops and training opportunities for people with a lived experience of suicide.
Spotlight on lived experience insight
Dr Jaelea Skehan OAM, Director of Everymind, recently invited Ingrid Ozols AM, Director of mh@work to share her perspective on what the #YouCanTalk campaign means to her and how people can engage, support and connect with those who have lived experience of suicide
Suicide is a complex issue and often a subject which many people find challenging to talk about.
But it’s a challenge that we need to overcome. Suicide impacts our families, schools, workplaces and communities every single day.
It is important that those who are experiencing suicidal thoughts do not feel alone and unable to talk about what is going on for them.
It is also important that those bereaved or impacted by suicide get the support of others as they navigate complex grief.
We know that many people in the community want to do more to prevent suicide, but research has shown that many people are unsure how to start and are also worried about making things worse by talking about suicide.
As an initial response, the #YouCanTalk campaign was launched in July this year as part of a collaborative initiative to build confidence and let people know that they don’t need to be a medical professional to have a safe conversation about suicide.
The campaign sought to mobilise and empower the community to observe changes in those around them and ask the question “are you thinking about suicide?”, if they had concerns.
It also highlighted that by working together as a community, our action and support may just change a life.
Either by allowing someone to talk for the first time about what is going on for them, or for people who have been managing chronic suicidality to have friends and family to talk to about their experiences.
While the research from the University of Melbourne prompted the agencies involved to kick-start the campaign, we also know that those with lived experience of suicide have, and continue to, play a critical role in guiding how we talk about these issues and how we respond as services and communities.
Every individual brings a different set of knowledge and experiences to a conversation which is why I have turned the floor over to Ingrid Ozols AM, Director of mh@work to provide her insight around how to support, engage and start a #YouCanTalk conversation with someone who has lived experience of suicide and mental illness.
I have learnt much from Ingrid over the years and value her perspective and experience.
Ingrid, what was your first reaction to the #YouCanTalk campaign?
As soon as I absorbed the messages around the #YouCanTalk launch, I burst into tears. Not from anger, nor grief, just from the yearning that I wished it had been around 20 years ago. It would have gone part of the way in mitigating some of the stigma and lack of support I experienced from friends and family because of my lived experience of suicide. It has taken me a long time to be ok with being vulnerable, to reach out and to share my feelings with others.
What do you define as lived experience?
The question that many people ask is who and what is lived experience?
Anyone can have lived experience of suicide in my view. It is not just the individual’s life which is impacted by suicide, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts.Many, many other lives are impacted.
Those with lived experience can come in the form of carers, friends, colleagues, partners and children.
Lived experience means someone who has experienced suicidal thoughts, survived or cared for someone through a suicide attempt or been bereaved by suicide.
If someone has a broken arm or leg, they receive empathy for their pain and suffering.Those with lived experience of suicide are also experiencing pain, it is just internalised. But it hurts and it is deep and most importantly, it is valid.
That pain may be resolved or it may still be very present but its existence and the experience of it matters.
What advice would you give to people about reaching out to those with lived experience?
Don’t avoid reaching out to someone because you fear they have lived experience and you aren’t sure how to fix the problem.
Just listening, letting someone talk, voice and acknowledge their pain can be one of the most important things a family member, friend or colleague can do.
We aren’t seeking attention. We aren’t asking you to fix it. We are simply seeking validation.
At the end of the day those with lived experience are human and we are simply seeking a connection by way of conversation.
By increasing human connectedness, we can tear down the oppressive force of stigma, judgement and isolation.
The #YouCanTalk campaign means that it is no longer a choice for people to remain ignorant.
People need realise that yourself is the best thing that you can give to someone who is in a crisis.
Suicidality is temporary, the feeling can come and go and often those who encounter it need someone to be present and serve as a circuit breaker to the emotion.
A welcome pause, providing a moment to voice the pain that they simply don’t know how to deal with.
Sometimes this means just asking someone with lived experience, are you safe?
It is ok that it feels awkward or uncomfortable.
How could it not? Someone is feeling raw, real pain and you are asking them to talk about it.
But don’t let that fear stop you.
Feel the fear and do it anyway because #YouCanTalk to someone with lived experience.