Australian Suicide Prevention Foundation

A National Health Promotion Charity


Transcript: Prof David Horgan with Oriti Rushing on ABC Radio's Breakfast News

28 November, 2023

At some time in our lives, did you know that 40% of us will have contact with a person who has strong suicidal ideas? That could be brief, it could be more long lasting. The fear of not knowing what to say in that circumstance, or being frightened of saying the wrong thing is very common in these situations. And now there’s a new app that’s out aiming to try and turn your mobile phone into a potential life-saving device.

David Horgan is a clinical associate professor and founder of the Australian suicide prevention foundation and he’s with us now – David.

Good morning to you David how big a health crisis is suicide in Australia? Let’s start there.

Well, I suppose we all wish our young people to drive safely. We’re always telling each other drive safely. However to a certain extent we are missing the main point the thing that actually unfortunately kills and injures Australians in the prime of life, which is anywhere from 15 to 50 is not current accidents. It is suicide and attempted suicide.

Unfortunately, it’s something that’s not talked about because people are afraid that it’s going to put the idea in somebody’s mind or that they’re going to make the situation worse.

Yeah, I mean in your experience how great is that fear of not knowing what to say?

Well, we actually did a survey through Resolve Strategic because we try to do what we do as research based as possible and that was last year and 67% of the over 2000 people we interviewed said they were afraid to say the wrong thing or afraid that anything they said would make this situation worse and did not know what to say. I actually suspect from talking to people generally that the numbers actually much higher than that.

We may say something caring, but if you want to say something that’s going to intervene and make a difference. People are stuck and indeed many trained professionals really don’t know what to say.

And as you say it’s it’s about finding the right words to say.

But also difficult for many of us to know when to bring up the issue of mental mental health and suicide. With a loved one at all when to raise it in the first place.

Exactly, we’re all very worried about depression and I must say the pressures on the population in general are huge in terms of life, the pressures of life, the relationship pressures, the financial pressures, the housing pressures, etc. So all of those things drive people into what we might call emotional pain.

And we then get worried that people are getting depression, which is what I talked about, depression, but then depression starts to say, or stress in general starts to say to people, Is there any point to being alive?

And so the quick, I know the standard approaches, ask people out straight, are you suicidal? But I think that’s a very blunt way of approaching it.

I strongly suggest that people instead say something like, are things so bad you wish you didn’t wake up in the morning. And if somebody says yes to that, then you might say, do you wish you weren’t alive?

If they say yes to that, then you might say, have you actually thought about doing something to yourself how strong with those thoughts. And that gives you some idea of how bad the situation is.

And then the question is what do you say? The standard advice we all get is make a telephone call to a crisis line. Crisis lines do excellent work. But in fact, 3 million Australians, according to the Bureau of Statistics, have actually had what they call strong thoughts of suicide. So there’s no way 3 million people will ever ring a crisis line. And indeed 1 million Australians have actually attempted suicide and survived it.

So on that note, sort of interrupt, tell us about the app, “Prevent A Suicide – What To Say”, how does it work and what does it do?

It’s a very simple app, it’s free, you just download it and it actually is divided into what to ask, what to say, what to do, and importantly, connecting until recovery, because suicidal ideas don’t just come and go in a day.

They are thoughts that linger around for days, weeks, and we provide hundreds of text messages, the sorts of messages that you would get if you saw a mental health professional. And messages from friends and family are far more powerful and impactful than messages from a stranger, whether they be a professional or not.

Let’s say though that you do get to an absolute crisis point and you’ve asked those questions and you get certain answers to them and if you fear someone’s life is in danger, is it then best to contact emergency services, triple, triple zero in that instance?

Well that’s if the person will agree to that and will cooperate.

But the other thing might be to say, look, I’ll stay with you until the situation passes and let’s go together and see a GP or a mental health professional of some sort, if you can find one, unfortunately, given the shortage of them. So it really is actually, they have a look at the advocacy, lots of suggestions, particularly emphasizing that care and support is around and that people will recover because the depression tends to convince them they will never recover and that they are a burden and there is no hope. Those are the thoughts that kill people. Whereas if you, in fact, come by those and say the opposite and we care and I want you to be alive to see my children and we will never get over this, it makes such a difference. We did actually put a short video on YouTube, “The effects of suicide takes two minutes.” It’s well worth watching.

Oh, no, I’m thank you for pointing that to us as well, but great to hear about the app and it sounds like it carries out a very important role as well during a crisis like this.

David, thank you very much for joining us.

Can I just ask that read listeners would just publicise that that’s all we ask, please? Indeed. Thank you.

Indeed. Thank you very much.

David Hogan, their clinical associate professor, founder of the Australian Suicide Prevention Foundation. That app is called “Prevent A Suicide – What to Say.” And just remember that number for Lifeline as well, 131114. And as David just told us there, the crisis centres do a lot of fantastic work indeed.

*Important Disclaimer: Our texts are approved by those who themselves had suicidal thoughts, and by medical and other mental health professionals. This site is medical information only, and is not to be taken as diagnosis, advice or treatment, which can only be decided by your own doctor or mental health professional.


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