10 September 2021

Bring the 'shadow pandemic' of suicide out of the darkness and into the light

| Lottie Twyford
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Lifeline Canberra CEO Carrie-Ann Leeson

On World Suicide Prevention Day – on Friday, 10 September – Lifeline Canberra CEO Carrie-Ann Leeson is encouraging people to reflect and honour those who have lost their lives. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Today (Friday, 10 September) is World Suicide Prevention Day, and the National Carillion will shine bright blue this evening to commemorate those who have lost their lives.

Lifeline is calling on all Canberrans to come together in a COVID-19-safe way to create hope and awareness for what some are labelling the ‘shadow pandemic’.

Lifeline Canberra CEO Carrie-Ann Leeson says it’s a day that’s more important than ever given the current situation in which Canberra now finds itself with COVID-19 lockdown.

Since 2012, Lifeline has been observing World Suicide Prevention Day with ‘Out of the Shadows’ – local walks around the nation that provide a safe space for communities to come together and remember those lives lost to suicide, and to support those impacted by suicide.

In normal years, the entire Canberra community would be invited to join an early morning ceremony followed by a walk at sunrise. But unfortunately this year’s large event had to be cancelled due to lockdown restrictions, and it has gone virtual instead.

Carrie will meet a few of her Lifeline colleagues early on Friday morning to reflect on those who have lost their lives to suicide in the past year.

She will read the names – sent to her by community members – of people’s loved ones and friends who have been lost.

After Carrie has read out the names, she’ll embark on a 5km walk in their honour.

“Of course, it can’t be a mass participation event, but we are still encouraging people to get involved in their own way,” she says.

“Take the time to reflect and to have that moment of time to connect with us virtually if you feel comfortable enough to do so.”

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Anything people do alone for the day can then be shared with the Lifeline team through their social media or email.

With lockdowns now in force on much of Australia’s east coast, Lifeline Australia has been receiving around 3500 calls a day.

In Canberra, the call answer rate has been increased by 40 per cent to try to meet and assist with the surge in demand.

Around 10 per cent of the population in Canberra is using Lifeline’s services at the moment, and Carrie says many of these people are first-time users of the service.

“What that is showing us is we have a community that is courageous enough and brave enough to pick up the phone to ask for help,” she says.

“For me, that’s very encouraging and hopeful because we know Lifeline does change and save lives.”

While Carrie says an increase in demand can come with a double-edged sword, the Lifeline team prefers to focus on the positives and is grateful for the increase in calls.

“Absolutely everyone has been affected by this lockdown – some of them severely, some mildly – but no-one has gotten out of it unscathed,” she says.

Carrie is also concerned that the longer the lockdown wears on, the more fatigued people are going to become and the harder it will be to abide by restrictions.

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“Uncertainty and anxiety will creep in,” she says.

For those who are struggling, Carrie recommends focusing on things they can control, such as diet, sleep, exercise and connecting, and recognising these feelings are a healthy reaction to a lockdown.

She says while it’s OK to take some time to be alone and to reflect, it’s important it doesn’t become isolation and a deterioration in mental health and wellbeing.

Another recommendation is to focus on ourselves before moving to check in on others.

“It’s important you find the value in yourself, and we’ve been running self-compassion courses to help with this,” says Carrie. “Work out why you value yourself, what self-care looks like, and why you need it.

“You have to meet yourself where you are right now, even if that looks different to where you were six months ago.”

Above all, Carrie says it’s important to remember why we’re in lockdown.

“The more of us who abide by this lockdown, the shorter it will be,” she says.

If you or someone you know needs help, you can contact Lifeline’s 24-hour crisis support line on 13 11 14.

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