The tragic cost of inadequate suicide prevention: Sabrina’s story

Sabrina was a vibrant teenager, in the second year of a law degree, when she began having panic attacks. The pressure of upcoming exams and assignment deadlines triggered severe anxiety, leaving the 19-year-old completely overwhelmed.

Scared and unsure of what to do, Sabrina turned to her family for help. Immediately her parents made contact with local doctors and mental health services in the Northern Territory to try to find help for their daughter.

Over nine weeks Sabrina had 17 appointments or conversations with doctors, psychologists and mental health workers. Her mother had more than 20 interactions with the same people. Astoundingly, during this period, Sabrina was never formally tested to determine the severity of her symptoms. At no time was she properly assessed or diagnosed.

It is reported that following nine weeks without effective treatment, Sabrina feared she would feel this way forever. And in August 2017, feeling hopeless despite strong family support around her, she tragically took her life.

The vital importance of suicide prevention

The year Sabrina died, she was one of 3,000 Australians who died by suicide. Her story highlights the devastating cost of inadequate prevention and the importance of better coordinated support and services for people struggling with mental illness.

Sabrina’s mother, Lidia, is now an advocate for suicide prevention. She works with and supports local research organisation Black Dog Institute and has also started her own support group called Bereaved by Suicide Support Group NT. This group focusses on bereaved people impacted by suicide, with values of instilling hope, engendering compassion and promoting healing.  

Lidia wants people suffering from mental health conditions to know that is life is worth living, that their feelings aren’t permanent and that, with the right support and treatment, things can improve.

“I know it can be difficult to take the first step to reach out to your family and friends, who care and love you no matter what, but please do and tell them how you are feeling. Importantly, make sure you access proper treatment and support – if you don’t feel supported or don’t think you are improving, always ask for a second opinion and speak to support groups and other organisations who will listen and can help,” she says. 

Tuesday, 10 September is World Suicide Prevention Day

World Suicide Prevention Day is an important opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of effective suicide prevention. According to statistics from the Black Dog Institute, over 65,000 people in Australia attempt suicide every year.

Young Australians, like Sabrina, are more likely to die by suicide than in a motor vehicle accidents. And, it is the leading cause of death for Australians between 15 and 44 years of age.

Steps for prevention

The Black Dog Institute reports that most people thinking about suicide don’t necessarily want to die, they just need someone to help them. It has published four steps to aid in the prevention of suicide:

  1. Ask whether someone is thinking about suicide 
  2. Listen and stay
  3. Get them help (call a helpline, take them to hospital or to see a mental health practitioner)
  4. Follow up – show that you care.

Get support

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or struggling with your mental health it’s important to reach out. In addition to speaking with medical professionals there are a number of support groups available which can help, such as:

  • Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800
  • Lifeline: 13 11 14
  • Suicide Call-back Service: 1300 659 467

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