Responding to a suicide death or attempt is no easy task for Illawarra police officers, but one tool is helping them reduce risk and promote healing.
Prevention and bereavement packs provided by the Illawarra Suicide Prevention and Awareness Network are ensuring police – and other first responders – have information about local support services at their fingertips.
Wollongong Police Chief Inspector Darren Brown said the packs were a valuable aid for police who were called to these situations all too often.
“As first responders, police are the first people that get called to an incident involving suicide, or attempted suicide, whether that be at a home, in a workplace or a public area,” he said.
“Supporting those involved is our main priority, and these packs are an invaluable tool for us to use to support them in their moment of need.
“The substantial packs contain a wealth of information on where they can access services and get support not only for themselves but for their loved ones who are struggling. It lets people know that they’re not on their own, that there’s plenty of support out there and it’s easily accessible.”
The packs are prepared by members of the Illawarra Suicide Prevention Awareness Network, or iSPAN.
iSPAN chair Peter Brown estimated that thousands of packs had been distributed to community members by police and ambulance officers, social workers and funeral directors, and more.
“The network formed nine years ago as part of the Wesley Mission, to raise awareness of the role everyone can play in reducing loss of life to suicide,” Mr Brown said.
“We quickly identified a gap – with police often confronted with these extremely difficult situations yet having no information at hand to pass on.
“So we developed two packs. One is for relatives of people who have died by suicide, and gives them information on bereavement and support services they can contact when they need to.
“The other pack is for relatives of someone who has attempted suicide, and contains information on how to help their family member and what local services are available.
“At the time of the incident it’s hard for people to take information in – these packs can be put aside until people are ready.”
Help is just a call or click away
With one in 10 people reporting having had suicidal thoughts at some point, it’s important to remember support is just a call or a click away.
Lifeline is one such support, with trained volunteers at the South Coast office receiving around 2000 calls each month.
Volunteers like Daniel Iannuzzi, who’s been a crisis support counsellor for three years.
“There’s a real stigma around mental health and talking about your difficulties, but every single one of us goes through hard times and it’s important to reach out for help – whether that be Lifeline, a family member or friend, a GP or counsellor,” he said.
“To me it’s a real sign of strength to take that first step and ask for help.
“At Lifeline we are a suicide prevention service and so first and foremostly work with callers to keep them safe. We then work collaboratively with the caller to see what further support they have already, and we help link them in with other support services.”
A range of online crisis support chats are also available through Lifeline, beyondblue, eheadspace and the Kids Helpline.
“Crisis support chats can provide immediate, accessible, short-term help to people needing support to deal with current problems in living that are overwhelming their capacity to cope and may be threatening their safety,” Lifeline South Coast CEO Rachel Norris said.
“They can also help to provide suggestions for online resources, open pathways for longer term solutions to underlying issues and determine specific next steps.”
Ms Norris said another option for those in need was to develop a suicide safety plan – ideally with support from a health professional or trusted friend or relative – to help get them through tough moments.
Beyondblue have created a phone app, BeyondNow, to help people develop and implement a personalised plan.
ARAFMI Illawarra has also published a carer’s crisis manual to guide carers through difficult situations.
A Mercury and Illawarra Shoalhaven Suicide Prevention Collaborative campaign also aims to get residents trained in suicide prevention through the QPR: Question, Persuade, Refer online course. Details: www.suicidepreventioncollaborative.org.au/QPR
If you need support call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.