Hi. This video is about a variety of sensitive topics such as suicide and childhood sexual abuse. Some of the things mentioned in this video may be triggering for those who may have lived or living experience of suicide. It is a heavy video. Please don't watch if you're not feeling up to it. If at any time you need help, please contact us. If you are having suicidal thoughts, please contact Lifeline or Beyond Blue for support, or contact your local GP to arrange further psychological support.
Last week I attended the national suicide prevention conference. It was a heavy, intense 4 days. The first day consisted of pre-conference workshops, then the next three days were the conference. So, the reason I went to the conference was that I was invited to present about Deaf people and suicide, and what the current state is. I wanted to encourage everyone to be aware of our community, to be more accessible and to provide us with the services that we need.
The pre-conference workshops were split into a morning and afternoon session, I can't speak to the afternoon workshop but the morning one that I attended was amazing. The workshop was to teach us how to talk about suicide and gave us tools on how to broach the topic with family or friends who we feel are giving off signs of suicidal ideation. A lot of people are frightened that if they were to talk to someone who is showing these signs, they may give the idea of suicide to them, however, that's not true. A lot of the time people are probably already thinking about it, or even if they aren't, asking them if they're thinking of suicide is not going to put any thoughts into their head. It's better to talk to them and let them know the things you've noticed and changed behaviours that indicate something is wrong. The workshop taught us signs to look for in a person, and what to do if the answer is yes. To be prepared to ask, do something, and support the person, rather than ignore the signs.
The workshop was impactful, it has empowered me and others to be more proactive and ask the question if we ever have concerns about someone's well-being. It's made me more willing to ask, as there is a lot of fear behind asking somebody if they're thinking about suicide. However, if the response is yes, the next step is to bring somebody in to help. You don't need to solve their problems; become their counsellor and you don't have to call 000 either. If the person is having suicidal thoughts you can ask to contact someone in their family to bring them in, or if they want to speak to a counsellor, you can arrange an appointment, and ask them if they want to go to the hospital. Ask them what they want to do, but don't ask them about methods and means. Just keep them safe and seek help.
Sometimes when asked the answer may be no, even though your intuition is telling you otherwise there's not much you can do. If they say yes, they are considering suicide, but don't want any of the help or assistance available. The training wasn't about going into depth with someone at that point in time. The aim is to have authentic conversations about this. The training gave me so much to think about and I plan on reaching out to the training providers to see if we can establish a specific training for those in the Deaf community who want to participate and gain a further understanding in this space. That training was powerful, it struck a chord with me. I must admit, I cried many times throughout the conference. As I was watching the presentations, I shed many tears at the heartfelt and heartbreaking content, the workshop however had the biggest impact on me.
I wasn't the only one, there were many other people attending who also cried throughout, I didn't see them, but the interpreters let me know. That was a nice advantage, they didn't tell me specific people but feedback on what they could see in the large audience's responses.
The afternoon workshop wasn't the right workshop for me, so I don't have anything to report on there.
The next day was the start of the 3-day conference. There were so many presentations, topics, and sessions on some profound subjects. I attended quite a few, so I'll give you summary of the lessons I took away from their sessions. One thing I learned was the highest percent of people globally who are likely to die by suicide are First Nations people. They are the most at-risk group. It's a huge problem.
One amazing presenter, Joe Williams, a First Nations former NRL Rugby player (I think?) and former Professional Boxer worked in the mental health sector and set up his own organisation to support First Nations young men and boys. He spoke about his history, and that in their language, they don't have a word for suicide. Now it happens, and it's a problem. His message was to allow Aboriginal people to take care of their own, and fix their problems without interference from others. It was interesting.
It was funny, in that presentation we should have heard from each speaker for 5 minutes, which we already know people love to speak and always go over their allotted time, however Joe became so passionate and presented so furiously about the current situation that it went for 45 minutes! The audience love it, they gave him a standing ovation. It was a great speech, however the lengthy video he showed didn't include captions. Many sessions and presentations I attended didn't caption their videos which was frustrating. I gave feedback about this and called for more accessibility.
Other themes of the conference spoke about the higher rate of males who die by suicide, the high rate of construction workers who take their own lives, and people who have experienced - and I want to give a trigger warning here - people who have experienced childhood sexual abuse, are more likely to take their own life. There are so many groups who were highlighted as being more likely to die by suicide, Queer people are more likely to take their own lives. So many groups it almost felt like a competition, no that's not the right word, but so many at-risk communities, like the Autistic community and more likely. So many groups are 'more likely' to experience suicide and suicidal thoughts it was like all of them were equally high risk. Many numbers and statistics were given but I don't understand how? No one spoke about intersectionality. What about a First Nations, Deaf, Queer person? No one spoke about intersectional identities. It was all very siloed and focused on one identity at a time.
There wasn't anything about Disability! Disability was not spoken about at all. Apart from myself, a Deafblind attendee, and another attendee with autism, we were the only 3 people with a visible disability there. I couldn't believe the lack of inclusive representation. We are part of the communities they spoke about. All the at-risk cohorts that they mentioned; men, construction workers, LGBTQA, First Nations people, Deaf and Disabled people exist in all those intersections too!
One session spoke about the use of art such as poetry to help with articulating any thoughts, which works for some people. Strategies like exercise. Just checking my notes. There was a long session that spoke about the experience of pregnant women and new mothers. That one was particularly difficult for me. They spoke about Post Natal Depression, Post-Partum Depression, and the experiences after childbirth without the right support networks in place. The various feelings that mother experience, are ambivalent towards their babies, the conflict of feelings, love for the baby but lack of identity as a mother. They spoke about different risks contributing to this, such as babies requiring hospitalisation, and fear of child removal by child protection. The fact that many mothers want to ask for help but are worried they will have their kids taken away for asking for mental health help. It was such a big topic with so many complicating factors for mothers of newborns.
There was also a presentation about religion, as some religions forbid speaking about suicide as it goes against their beliefs and teachings. It called for all religions to talk about suicide in a way that doesn't frame it as a sin, as something that requires understanding from church leaders and congregation, it was interesting.
A presenter from Kids Helpline spoke about an alarming trend among boys who are more likely to take their own lives. One of the big problems being online behaviours. There is an increase in, and I want to tell all parents out there to please think of your kids. What they've seen is an increase in young boys chatting to someone who pretend to be a girl at their age via online communication. The 'girl' will initiate a conversation asking for a naked photo and may send a photo first asking the boy to send one in return. When the young boy does, the girl then threatens to share the photo with his family and friends if he doesn't pay a ransom. Often these young boys feels lost and don't know who to turn to out of shame and anxiety they instead turn to suicide. That made me think about the need for us to talk to our children about these dangers, the appropriate use of devices and online safety, not to send nude/naked photos and if they do, what to do if they find themselves in this situation. That suicide is not the answer. They need to reach out to friends and family for help and support.
Another speaker spoke about loneliness. Loneliness is a huge global issue. More and more people are experiencing loneliness, lacking connection with others and a sense of belonging. It's a big issue for many people, which again can lead people to have suicidal thoughts. I've felt lonely before, I'm sure many of you watching this video also know the feeling of being alone. It's important to have a network of friends, to be included in your community. We also share a responsibility in being more welcoming and inclusive to others to prevent loneliness.
Alcoholism was another subject covered at the conference. Drinking alcohol makes you more likely to die by suicide or have suicidal thoughts. The thought about the considerations of raising the legal drinking age from 18 to 21. They didn't speak about drug abuse; it was focused on alcohol consumption and its alarming contribution to death by suicide.
I gave my presentation, I spoke about the statistics in the Deaf community. For example, Deaf children born to hearing parents are more likely to have suicidal thoughts and attempts. Deaf children are more likely to experience childhood sexual abuse compared to hearing children. Deaf people are twice more likely to have suicidal thoughts and three times more likely to take their own lives. There are so many staggering statistics. As I presented, I asked that audience what they are doing about this. There is a lack of inclusion for Deaf and Disabled people, I called upon them to do better. I think my presentation had a positive impact; I had many people approach me afterwards commenting on it. I hope to see work happening in this space. Out of everything I learned, I realise we have a long, long way to go. Really, we are at the start. We need more kindness; we need more people to be considerate and look out for each other. I'm happy to chat further if you'd like to reach out.
I hope to attend next year's conference to promote inclusion for the Deaf community. Not only that but there is a lot of work currently underway. I've had many meetings with different organisations such as Roses in the Ocean, who are tasked with writing the National Suicide Prevention Strategy which was established by the Federal Government to consult with all communities on this issue. And to ensure suicide prevention is embedded throughout the whole of Government to save lives. The topic of Suicide is still a big topic here at Deaf Australia since the need was highlighted last year. I have regular meetings with various stakeholders to promote change. Yes, we want more Auslan, videos and resources produced in Auslan, but we know that isn't enough. We need to be able to access services directly in Auslan, with someone who can understand us. I have been advocating for that.
Our goal for this year is to highlight this area and encourage all those involved to prioritise this need. I feel like we have made a little progress and I hope by end of the year we make further progress to have infrastructure established for Deaf people to be able to call a helpline and engage with a Deaf or Auslan fluent person. My goal is for this to be for both Deaf children and adults. Secondly, I want to see funding allocated for suicide prevention for Deaf people by Deaf people, not tokenistic Auslan translations, but actual services. I also hope to partner with and create a Deaf specific suicide prevention workshop for our community to access the training.
Jen has curly red hair and is sitting on a beige couch against a light colored wall. She is wearing a light grey cardigan and a black t-shirt. The topic is serious and her demeanor is somber and serious to match.