Peers, family and friends play a vital role in suicide prevention

Nowra's Graham Carpenter enjoys the support of a weekly men's group. Picture: Supplied
Nowra's Graham Carpenter enjoys the support of a weekly men's group. Picture: Supplied

Losing his brother to suicide triggered something in Graham Carpenter – and it’s been a battle to overcome his feelings of despair and hopelessness.

The Nowra man said he’s had his “ups and downs” over the past 15 years, but the support of family and friends has been vital.

The weekly Shoalhaven Aboriginal Men’s Group has proved invaluable too – offering a culturally sensitive environment where those with mental health and other issues feel comfortable opening up.

“My brother’s death triggered it off – and I’ve battled to keep going, to stop the thoughts of suicide,” Mr Carpenter said.

“I’ve had stints at mental health units which have been good, but it’s also good to have people around you you can talk to when you need to.

“The men’s group has been great – we have a circle and we talk through our problems. It’s all private and confidential and you just feel better sharing things with others who’ve been through hard times too and know what it’s like.”

The 45-year-old is also supported by the South Coast Medical Service Aboriginal Corporation, which works with organisations like Grand Pacific Health and Flourish on a range of suicide prevention programs.

These include the Next Steps program which provides after-care support for those who present to emergency departments in the Illawarra and Shoalhaven following a suicide attempt.

Flourish peer support worker Danielle Van Vliet said the 12-week program helped people through the recovery process.

“We help get people back on their feet after a suicide attempt or ideation by setting goals, and breaking them down into steps that are achievable,” she said.

“Grand Pacific Health provides the clinical staff and Flourish supplies the peer workers which are really important as they know how someone feels when they’re having a bad day – because they have those days too.”

Road to recovery: Flourish mental health peer support worker Danielle Van Vliet says everyone's recovery is different. Picture: Robert Peet

Road to recovery: Flourish mental health peer support worker Danielle Van Vliet says everyone's recovery is different. Picture: Robert Peet

Ms Van Vliet said the program also helped refer people to the services that were appropriate for them.

“A lot of the issues people have come from situational stress – whether it’s breaking up with a partner, or drug and alcohol issues, or housing or financial problems,” she said. “It’s important to dissect the issues and get them the right support.”

Clinical support not the only option

The strongest predictor of a future suicide attempt is a previous suicide attempt. 

And while quality, co-ordinated follow-up care can reduce suicide attempts by almost 20 per cent, it doesn’t always require clinical mental health treatment.

Tim Heffernan – the mental health peer co-ordinator for the South Eastern NSW Primary Health Network, Coordinare – said peer support workers played a vital role too.

“It’s good for people to be able to talk to and work with someone who has experiences similar to themselves,” he said. “It’s very helpful in assisting with their recovery and can be just as effective as seeing a psychologist.”

Support and compassion could also come from a mate or family member. “It’s about having human connections – having people you can trust and confide in, who can help you reclaim your life and regain that hope,” he said.

Dr Fiona Shand, research director of the Black Dog Institute’s LifeSpan program, said support could be offered to people in different ways.

“It might include taking them to appointments, going to the gym together, assisting with household duties or even cooking some meals,” she said.

“Assisting the person to find stable employment or to get access to legal aid, housing support, relationship or grief counselling, or free financial counselling services might also be useful. 

“This can ease some of the stress and burden that the person may be facing.”

The Mercury is encouraging people to undertake the QPR suicide prevention training course as part of a campaign with the Illawarra Shoalhaven Suicide Prevention Collaborative. Details at www.suicidepreventioncollaborative.org.au/QPR

For crisis support call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Comments