Having healthy conversations about suicide and mental wellbeing

Content warning: this article contains mentions of suicide, mental health and anxiety.

On Thursday 10 September it was R U OK day and World Suicide Prevention Day. These two national and international days mark an annual moment in time where we are reminded of the importance of checking in with ourselves, checking in with those close to us and asking “Are you OK?”.

We can’t skirt around the fact 2020 has been a challenging year for every single one of us. The pandemic has taken a toll on various aspects of our own lives and of the lives of our colleagues, family and friends, inevitably having an impact across people’s employment and housing situations, their relationships, social networks and the way we work. A recent study by Monash University found that psychological symptoms like high anxiety, depression, eating disorders and irritability were twice as prevalent in the first month of COVID-19 restrictions compared to the months prior.

If checking in with yourself and your networks before the pandemic was important, it is even more so now. When someone says they’re not OK, we should make time to listen, encourage action and check-in again with them later. The purpose of R U OK Day and World Suicide Prevention Day is to remind us all of the importance of connection and communication. Conversations can save lives.

This is something that we have been acutely aware of through our practice. As a purpose-driven human-centred design agency, we work across a number of projects in the mental health sector, including our ongoing engagement providing support to Orygen on the #chatsafe campaign. For the past three years we’ve been investigating the needs of young people when they talk online about suicide. Our online world is forever changing, and #chatsafe aims to provide up to date and relevant information to young people when talking online about suicide.

Orygen has since launched the #chatsafe guidelines which provide tools and tips to help young people communicate safely online about suicide. We supported the launch of the guidelines by running a series of workshops with young people across Australia to co-design the online space to host the guidelines and key messaging for the national campaign. Over the months that have followed, we have designed the brand identity for #chatsafe, created the campaign assets and managed the twelve-week national launch campaign. We want to ensure that as many young Australians as possible are aware of the #chatsafe guidelines and the key tools and tips for talking safely online about suicide.

The fact that #chatsafe went global earlier this year with support from Facebook and partner organisations in 10 countries means that young across the world will benefit from the critical messaging and direction that #chatsafe provides in talking safely about difficult issues, including suicide.

Our team who work on the #chatsafe project are now approaching the end of a semester-long partnership between #chatsafe and RMIT University. Orygen have provided four briefs to RMIT for final year Ethical Design and Professional Communications students, with students grouping together and choosing one brief to complete over the 12 week semester. All four of the briefs vary in their requirements. One of the briefs focused on how we share stories of hope and recovery online, something that has become increasingly important in recent years. Whereas another brief focused on increasing engagement across the #chatsafe platforms. This partnership has seen us host two workshops, introducing one focused on design thinking for the students which provided them with guidance on how they can use human centered design principles in their own approach to the brief. We have also been present for grading milestones throughout the semester to continue guiding the students to meet the brief - we can’t wait to see what they have created. 

Recent key messages when talking online about suicide include:

  • Taking control of your social media. Mute, hide or unfollow a person or account that makes you feel distressed;
  • Incorporating self care as part of your daily routine can have a positive impact on your mood and mental wellbeing;
  • When talking about suicide, don’t use words that glamorise it, but you can include messages of hope and recovery;
  • Using a content warning helps people know what they’re about to see and lets them take control of what they see. It’s always good to include a warning and keep your posts safe for everyone.

So, in the spirit of R U OK Day 2020 and World Suicide Prevention Day, remember to ask the question and check-in with someone you know if you feel like something’s not quite right.

Help and key resources:

Emergency help in Australia:

  • If you or somebody else is at immediate risk call 000 
  • For less urgent assistance, contact one of the following support services:
    Suicide Call Back Service: Provides free 24/7 telephone, online, and video counselling and crisis support to all Australians affected by suicide. Call 1300 659 467
    LifeLine Australia: Provides free 24/7 online and phone personal crisis support and suicide prevention services to all Australians. Call 13 11 14
    Kids Helpline: Provides free and confidential 24/7 phone and online counselling for children and young people aged between five and 25 years. Call 1800 551 800
    eheadspace: Provides email, chat and phone counselling for young people aged between 12 and 25 years. eheadspace operates seven days a week, from 9:00am to 1:00am AEDST. Call 1800 650 890
    Beyond Blue: Provides a free 24/7 phone support line, as well as online chat, and forums for adults.

Orygen’s #chatsafe project is supported by funding from the Australian Government, under the National Suicide Prevention Leadership and Support Program. Orygen’s guidelines have been taken global with support from Facebook.

Sign up to our email newsletter to get updates about our events, work and research