Blog: Our Acting CEO reflects on International Women's Day

8 March 2018

On International Women's Day, our Acting CEO Kim Borrowdale reflects on what she's learned working with Suicide Prevention Australia and its Members when it comes to women and suicide. Here's what she had to say:

On social media this week, we are seeing three hashtags to mark International Women’s Day. These are #PressforProgress #womensvoices and #BecauseOfHerWeCan

Below is one question that came to mind when I was thinking about each of these hashtags in relation to women and suicide prevention; a little food for thought on International Women's Day.

When thinking about progress, I wonder if women are visible enough in suicide prevention plans?

In mid 2015, Suicide Prevention Australia undertook a piece of work to look at women and suicidal behaviour in this country. You can download the discussion paper here. Thank you again to all who contributed to putting this paper together. 

The key findings of this paper were this:

  • Women have higher rates of suicidal behaviour, i.e. ideation, planning and suicide attempts compared to men and when suicide mortality and morbidity are combined it has a large impact on public health in Australia and internationally.
  • Even though women are highly represented in non-fatal suicidal behaviour they are not very visible in suicide prevention programs and research.
  • The number of women aged 15-24 years who injured themselves so severely that they require hospital treatment has increased by more than 50% since 2000.
  • It is important to emphasise that a focus on women in no way diminishes the focus on men, youth, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, LGBTI and gender diverse communites and other population groups that represent the highest proportion of suicide deaths in this country.
  • However, if we don't invest in women’s issues and prevention in addition to that work, we are at risk of ignoring the potentially devastating trends in suicidal behaviour in women.

The Paper notes that "while there is currently a global and national dialogue underway to improve the lives of women and children including policy development to address the reduction of violence and improved mental health, a review of current international and national developments relevant to the topic of women’s health indicates little noteworthy prioritisation of suicide prevention for women.” 

Does we need to review where we are in relation to women and suicide prevention planning if we are to effectively support all Australians to live well?

Do we hear women’s voices as they are, not how they are historically assumed to be?

SPA’s Discussion Paper stated that “there are cultural stereotypes that impede the level and nature of support provided to women exhibiting suicidal behaviours. The view of men’s suicide is seen as masculine, decisive, lethal, violent, aggressive and serious, while suicide behaviour, suicide attempts and non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) in women are regarded as more ‘feminine’ and conceptualised as non-lethal, non-violent and passive."

It goes on to say that "this portrayal is misleading and can seriously affect the way families, the community and service providers respond. This is particularly the case in healthcare settings where staff continue to lack understanding and compassion, and in their time-poor, stressful work environments, often deem suicidal behaviour as “attention-seeking”. These attitudes compromise the quality of care provided to women and potentially adds to the risk of perpetuating suicidal behaviour.”

As the Paper sets out as a key area requiring change, “women that present at a health care institution should be treated with compassion while support for women who are suicidal (and close ones) must be improved; training, supervision and quality assurance measures need to be developed and implemented to improve attitudes and behaviour of all staff in contact with suicidal women; and domestic violence workers should all receive suicide risk assessment, suicide prevention and safety planning training.”

There is a lot of work being done by our Members and others to focus on workforce development when it comes to suicide prevention. We are also seeing a lot of work being done by our colleagues and communities to change attitudes and behaviours to suicide so as to encourage more help seeking. Are we in a space where the way we respond to women exhibiting suicidal behaviours has now changed for the better?

Are you listening to women who have expertise to share in suicide prevention?

Because of strong women who have shared how suicide has personally impacted their lives we are able to better inform the work of those working to prevent suicide.

In my time working with Suicide Prevention Australia and its national Network of people with Lived Experience, I have been honoured to meet some of these women who are attempt survivors, women who, like me, are bereaved by suicide and women who are caring for loved ones living with suicidal behaviour. All I meet are passionate about making serious systemic and social change. All have, I’m sure, at one time or another been frustrated with the pace and breadth of change. Each voice has a different experience to contribute to our collective purpose.

Today, as you reflect on International Women’s Day, join me in taking a moment to appreciate the women’s voices we hear in suicide prevention. To inspire you do that, here is a short story shared by Lived Experience Network Member Hayley some time ago on our podcast channel. Because of her, and all the women before, and after her, who share their experiences to inform suicide prevention, we can!



28 July 2015
This discussion paper focuses on women’s suicidality because it is an important public health issue.