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Depression and suicide: coming out from the dark

22 November 2013

The reality of workplace stress is widely known. Similarly, there is plenty of talk these days about depression, with sporting celebrities talking about their experiences and encouraging us to get help (with the depression helpline, on 0800 111 757 being a great way to access free, confidential support.)

But suicide is still a final taboo, so when it touches us or someone we know, we’re often shocked and at a loss at what to do, if anything.

“You don’t have to look very far to find someone who has been affected by suicide, but it’s not something we’re comfortable talking about in New Zealand” says Jo Denvir, Chief Executive of Lifeline, New Zealand’s largest provider of mental health helplines.

“The ripple effects of suicide are enormous. It’s not only the family who are affected, but friends and co-workers can also experience tremendous guilt. The legacy of suicide is definitely under estimated.”

It’s well known that the legal profession, in particular, rates highly in depression and suicide statistics internationally, experiencing depression and suicide at between two and four times that of the average population.

In New Zealand, the reported suicide statistics for the year 2012-2013 were 541 completed suicides – higher than the road toll. However the incidence of attempted suicides are reported at up to 40 times higher.

So what leads to thoughts of suicide? The reasons are, of course, complex. Workplace stress and extended periods of “feeling down” should never be ignored or under estimated, and helplines and face-to-face counselling at organisations such as Lifeline are there to let you talk things through in a professional and confidential way.

However we know that for some people, untreated depression can escalate very quickly into severe mental distress and, ultimately, can lead to suicidal thoughts and attempts.

So that brings us back to the question – what should we do? How can we tell if a friend or colleague is considering suicide? And if we’re worried, what steps should we take?

“We have had some fantastic success in New Zealand with the likes of the John Kirwan depression campaign,” Ms Denvir says. The campaign is a part of the government’s National Suicide Prevention Strategy 2012-2016.

“However, prevention campaigns alone will not stop every person from having thoughts of suicide or suicidal behaviours.”

Lifeline’s response is two-fold. The organisation provides New Zealand’s suicide crisis helpline, 0508 TAUTOKO (0508 828 865), a 24/7 helpline service answered by highly skilled, senior counsellors with specific training in suicide intervention and prevention skills. If you are worried about your own feelings, or worried about someone close to you, this is a great number to call for help and support.

Lifeline Aotearoa also offers a range of suicide prevention and intervention training, with courses ranging from the half-day safeTALK course through to the comprehensive two-day ASIST training, New Zealand’s only practical suicide first aid programme. The emphasis is not only on how to recognise people in distress, but for people experiencing distress recognising the importance of telling someone.

“We head along to personal and professional development courses all the time,” Ms Denvir says. “I believe practical suicide first aid skills should fall into this category. It’s something we all need to take responsibility to learn, just like regular first aid.”

Five suicide safety steps to ‘start the conversation today’

Check In – ask if they’re OK?

Explain that you are concerned. That you’ve noticed some changes in their behaviour and sometimes when a person’s behaviour changes it can mean they are thinking about suicide. Is suicide something they are thinking about?

Listen without judgement

Talking about feelings of suicide can be hard for some people, even painful. Most of the time, though, it can be a relief that someone has noticed and is prepared to listen. Listening without judgement can help to keep safe someone at risk of suicide.

Take them seriously

Whenever someone talks about suicide and doesn’t follow through, that doesn’t mean they are just attention seeking. Talking about it can be a cry for help.

Ask if they have a plan

Asking about a plan helps you and the person at risk of suicide understand how serious this is. This is a matter of life and death.

Connect in with professionals

Unless you are a trained suicide first aider or a health professional then it is important that you seek help to keep the person you care about safe.

Quick links

Lifeline 24/7 Helpline: 0800 543 354 (24 hrs)

Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24hrs)

Face-to-face counselling for members of the New Zealand Law Society: contact counselling@lifeline.org.nz.

If you, or someone you know, is thinking about suicide call the 24-hour Suicide Crisis Line 0508 TAUTOKO (0508 82 88 65).

For more information about Lifeline Aotearoa’s suicide prevention education courses (ASIST or safeTALK) see www.livingworks.org.nz/Programmes_554.aspx.

If your organisation would like to host a suicide prevention education training event, contact the SPE training manager: wiremuw@lifeline.org.nz.

Kayte Godward is the sector relationship manager for Lifeline Aotearoa. She works with communities and organisations around New Zealand to provide access to, and awareness of, Lifeline Aotearoa’s range of services. Ms Godward is also an experienced telephone counsellor and a suicide intervention skills trainer, facilitating both the ASIST and safeTALK programmes.

Last updated on the 13th June 2018