SUICIDE prevention has taken a big step in the past decade but those working in the field say there is still more to do.
In a sign of the changing will, since the March election, the state government has announced the formation of the Premier’s Council on Suicide Prevention, to be chaired by long-time suicide prevention campaigner John Dawkins MLC.
Mr Dawkins said the 23-person council, which will meet bi-monthly, is building on a “broadening community willingness and capability” to address suicide prevention.
“Our bottom line is to get our suicide rates down significantly,” he said.
Council members include representatives from the South East, Upper North, Murraylands, and are a mix of lived experience and academic know-how.
Mr Dawkins said the group may not cover “every corner of SA” but it did have good coverage of rural and metropolitan people.
Premier Steven Marshall said the goal was to build on the work already being done by Suicide Prevention Networks, which have been established with local government areas across the state.
In the past few years a series of Suicide Prevention Networks has been established with local government areas across the state, with the emphasis on local areas knowing the culture and history of their regions and being best-placed to provide relevant aid, with the support from an experienced body.
Premiers Council member Chez Curnow, Port Augusta, said there had been big changes in the past 15 years, since she entered the field.
“When I first started working with suicide prevention, it was a real uphill battle to obtain funding,” she said.
“There is a real recognition that suicide is everyone’s business – it sits with schools, communities and industry.”
Ms Curnow said the council was a promising initiative with the ability to join strategy and activity across three tiers of government.
“Change across a sector can be a slow trajectory but this is like someone has taken the brakes off, it is an important time to be involved,” she said.
“Suicide prevention has always sat within mental illness but not everyone who suicides has a mental illness – sometimes it can be situational, therefore it is imperative we cast our safety net wider than we have previously.”
There is a real recognition that suicide is everyone’s business – it sits with schools, communities and industry.
Mr Dawkins recently returned from a trip to Europe and the United Kingdom to view some of the strategies being implemented in other countries.
He said some concepts he saw in action might translate to the SA example, such as work in Birmingham, UK, to reduce the queue faced when people present to accident and emergency rooms in hospitals with suicidal thoughts.
Trial to close regional gaps across rural SA
A NATIONWIDE trial aimed at finding strategies to lower suicide rates is targeting five communities in rural SA.
National Suicide Prevention Trial SA coordinator Chez Curnow, who works in suicide prevention and mental health with Country SA Primary Health Network, said the three-year trial, which began earlier this year, looked at different strategies to reduce suicide rates and evaluate their effectiveness.
There are 12 trial sites nationally, with the Country SA region encompassing Yorke Peninsula, Port Pirie, Port Augusta, Whyalla and Port Lincoln.
Mrs Curnow said even though it was still early, there had already been some positive outcomes.
“We’ve focused on engaging the community to be part of the change, looking at pressure points, needs and gaps,” she said.
They had 337 people respond to a survey and face-to-face sessions with one of the biggest calls a need for proper training in suicide prevention and intervention skills.
“In regions where support can often be fly-in and fly-out, the pressure can fall on mums and dads and sporting coaches,” she said.
Because of this need, Mrs Curnow said they had already put in place the opportunity for people living in regional areas to access free online suicide prevention training in QPR – Question. Persuade. Refer.
The QPR information can be accessed at countrysaphn.com.au with login code CSA.
She said it had initially been put in place at the trial sites but was later extended to all in regional SA, based on the positive feedback received during the initial rollout. So far almost 800 people have done the free online suicide prevention training.
Mrs Curnow said there was also an investment of $90,000 in trial areas for face-to-face suicide prevention training, adding a multi-layered approach to the training.
She said a trial focusing on regional SA was a big step forward in learning what works in country areas, with previous trials often held in well-populated cities.
Broader support needed for bereaved
SILENT Ripples founder Janet Kuys, Palmer, is hoping the formation of the Premier’s Council on Suicide Prevention will lead to real change for all those affected by suicide.
Ms Kuys lost her son to suicide 11 years ago and believes suicide bereavement is an area that can get forgotten.
“People bereaved of suicide are at greater risk of suicide themselves,” she said.
“There are not a lot of structured programs to support people who are bereaved through suicide.”
Ms Kuys said there was often a need to speak with people who had gone through something similar.
“I’d lost parents and I’d lost friends to other causes but loss through suicide is quite different,” she said.
She said family and friends left behind after suicide may be left with a lot of questions that may not have answers.
“They’re left asking ‘why didn’t the doctor see that?’ or ‘why did someone let them get into that financial state?’” she said.
“They’ve got that loss but also guilt, anger, blame – it’s kind of the double whammy.”
Ms Kuys said she initially started the Murray Bridge-based Silent Ripples to provide support “for people like me”.
“Generally when we lose people to suicide, there are the usual responses of police and ambulance, then we’re left with nothing,” she said.
She said there could also be stigma for those left behind.
“I’ve had people cross the street – people don’t want to talk about it, they don’t know how to talk about it,” she said. “We need support for not just people who are feeling suicidal, it’s often the people left behind.”
Ms Kuys said for the first three years after her son died, she had struggled to find support. There had been a group in Adelaide to support the bereaved but nothing out in regional areas.
I’ve had people cross the street – people don’t want to talk about it, they don’t know how to talk about it.
Silent Ripples has since started two groups in the Riverland, at Berri and Waikerie.
Ms Kuys has also helped organise the Ride Against Suicide, which is in its third year, with 300 motorbikes starting at Mannum Returned Services League club, heading Nuriootpa RSL and Two Wells RSL, before riding into the Royal Adelaide Show main arena on Sunday.
The event worked as a fundraiser as well as raising awareness and breaking down suicide stigma.
- Lifeline: 131 114
- Mental Health Services: 131 465
- Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467
- Mensline Australia 1300 789 978
- Kids Help Line 1800 551 800
Regional Access provides free professional counselling for regional SA. It is a free telephone and online counselling service for people who are feeling the pressures and stresses of everyday life. It is open to anyone who lives or works in regional, rural or remote SA. Professionally trained counsellors will listen, support and help develop strategies to manage concerns.
Call 1300 032 186 or visit saregionalaccess.org.au