LifeSpan achievements in the Illawarra Shoalhaven 12 months on

Those gathered at the Illawarra Shoalhaven Suicide Prevention Collaborative's event in Kiama on Thursday heard from panel members about the success of the LifeSpan project. Pictures: Robert Peet
Those gathered at the Illawarra Shoalhaven Suicide Prevention Collaborative's event in Kiama on Thursday heard from panel members about the success of the LifeSpan project. Pictures: Robert Peet

‘Working together to prevent suicide’ was the theme of this week’s World Suicide Prevention Day.

And on R U OK? Day on Thursday, the Illawarra Shoalhaven Suicide Prevention Collaborative held a community event to celebrate what this region has achieved – by working together.

Twelve months ago the Collaborative, which brings together around 40 organisations across the region, launched the Black Dog Institute’s LifeSpan project.

“This is one of the most comprehensive suicide prevention efforts ever undertaken to reduce suicide in this region, maybe even the country, and we’re proud to be part of it,” Dr Alex Hains, regional manager of the Collaborative, said.

People with lived experience of suicide, including peer workers, have been an integral part of the initiative. 

People such as Tim Heffernan, a peer worker for Coordinare and the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District.

Mental health peer worker Tim Heffernan said the sharing of lived experience was essential.

Mental health peer worker Tim Heffernan said the sharing of lived experience was essential.

“The sharing of lived experience in mental health domains and suicide prevention is absolutely essential,” he said.

“As we change the way we look at mental health issues and mental illness we’ll understand we should no longer be looking at it through a medical lens, but looking at it that something occurs to a lot of us.”

Mr Heffernan said the aim of peer support, and other programs, was about “reconnection”, about connecting people back to family, back to communities.

“Too often we’ve treated mental illness by separating people out – we used to have institutions, we still have ways of taking people out of their normal lives and making it difficult to get back in,” he said.

“So peer workers have navigated mental health systems and they can really walk with someone who hasn’t to make their journey a little bit easier.”

Among LifeSpan’s successes in the region includes the introduction of a new service, the Next Steps aftercare program, at Wollongong, Shellharbour and Shoalhaven Hospitals emergency departments.

“It’s to support people who have been to the ED because they’ve had a suicide attempt or been suicidal,“ Adam McRae, of Grand Pacific Health, said.

“Following discharge we support them by assessing their needs and then setting goals to support that.

“… It’s a link between acute services and community-based services.” 

Meantime 129 health professionals have had advanced training in mental health and four general practices now use the StepCare mental health screening tool for patients, and many more have expressed an interest.

Paul Lillyman, of Coordinare, said the results of StepCare’s quick iPad survey were swiftly relayed to GPs, allowing them to start a discussion with their patients.

“From the research we know people who die by suicide attend their GPs in the days or weeks before their death, but unfortunately haven’t been able to raise their hand and ask for help,” he said.

“(The screening) allows those people who may be suffering or unwell to have those discussions with their GP they may not otherwise have been confident to have.”

Also in the last 12 months, more than 3500 Year 9 students across 26 schools in the region have undertaken the Youth Aware of Mental Health program and over 1000 residents have completed an online suicide prevention course.

“The aim of YAM is to promote awareness and understanding of mental health among young people,” Catholic Education representative Natalie Lightfoot said. “We’re also there to build their problem-solving and help-seeking skills and also to connect them to support services in their local community.”

The Mercury too has also played its part, running a 12-week awareness campaign, sharing the stories of people with lived experience and promoting the QPR: Question Persuade Refer course.

For details visit www.suicidepreventioncollaborative.org.au/QPR

If you’d like to talk to anyone about the issues raised in this article call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467. 

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