Communication one of the keys, mother says

CARER: Illawarra resident Nikki Bushell, whose daughter made an attempt on her own life nearly two years ago. Picture: Robert Peet
CARER: Illawarra resident Nikki Bushell, whose daughter made an attempt on her own life nearly two years ago. Picture: Robert Peet

After her daughter’s suicide attempt, Nikki Bushell says her and husband Kevin were “totally and utterly lost”. 

“I thought I had to hide every single knife and drug in the house,” she said.

“That didn’t help Jessica at all. It was, ‘you don’t trust me’. You have to give somebody the level of trust and respect they deserve.

“Around the house, you need to learn how to communicate with your loved one, and create a safe and respectful environment where they feel safe, respected, heard and understood.

“Hiding knives isn’t the answer.”

Mrs Bushell’s daughter Jessica, now 22, has borderline personality disorder.

Nearly two years ago, Mrs Bushell received a phone call informing her that Jessica had attempted suicide. 

“Previous to that, we thought she had anxiety and depression, and was seeking help and counselling.

“What we didn’t know is she was receiving the wrong type of counselling for her illness.”

Following the suicide attempt, Oak Flats resident Mrs Bushell said support provided by organisations like Aftercare and ARAFMI had been vital. 

“I re-learnt how to communicate with our daughter,” she said. 

“We learnt what wasn’t personal with her behaviour, we learnt understanding and what her triggers were.

“That enabled her to help herself… You have this totally different view and understanding of what their life is like, and what they need from you.”

Jessica now works in aged care, and has moved out of home. “She’s come from that calling for help to picking herself up, dusting herself off and fights every day with her illness,” Mrs Bushell said. 

“She’s one of the strongest people I know.”

The Mercury, with the Illawarra Shoalhaven Suicide Prevention Collaborative, is running a campaign to get more residents trained in suicide prevention through the QPR: Question, Persuade, Refer online course

As part of that, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard funded 1000 courses (usual cost $10). To secure one of the 250 remaining free courses visit www.suicidepreventioncollaborative.org.au/QPR.

Families playing a crucial role

Families play a vital role in supporting people who are having suicidal thoughts. 

Dr Alex Hains, regional manager of the Illawarra Shoalhaven Suicide Prevention Collaborative said while most services are only available during business hours, families are on call 24/7. 

Dr Hains said family members are often the best-placed to notice when someone isn’t their usual self.

“Family members might notice their loved one isn’t sleeping or eating as much as usual, or far more than usual, or not enjoying the things they used to enjoy. 

“These changes should be seen as ‘flags’.”

He said there are some simple, safe steps that family members can take to identify and support a loved one who is struggling. These include signing up to do the Question, Persuade and Refer (QPR) training. 

There are other practical steps families can take to help prevent suicides.

“With 68 per cent of suicide deaths in the Illawarra-Shoalhaven occurring within the home, we encourage families to have open and direct conversations about how to support each other, particularly when they’re in crisis,” Dr Hains said. 

“Planning ahead for these times is really worthwhile. 

“This isn’t about trying to control everything or take decisions away from people who are struggling. It’s about doing what you can to keep them safe while they’re in crisis.”

Resources available for Illawarra families supporting someone with suicidality or mental health issues include ARAFMI, who facilitate regular support groups for family and carers and have published a Carer’s Crisis Manual to help guide carers.