#care2qpr: Illawarra suicide prevention advocate shares key messages

The causes of a suicidal crisis are complex and individual, but support is always available.

Story by Natalie Croxon, Photo by Robert Peet, Illawarra Mercury.


The causes of a suicidal crisis are complex and individual, but advocates want members of the Illawarra community to know there is always support available.

The Illawarra Shoalhaven Suicide Prevention Collaborative and the Mercury have recently partnered to raise awareness of suicide and encourage people to learn about how they can support those in crisis, by spotlighting the stories of people with lived experience.

Jo Riley, suicide prevention program manager with the South Eastern NSW Primary Health Network COORDINARE, hopes people have learnt something about suicide, which claims the lives of about 55 people in the Illawarra Shoalhaven each year.

"One of the key things that I would hope that the community learns about suicide prevention is that everyone's story is unique, that suicide is a very complex issue and there's no single cause to a person's crisis," Ms Riley said.

"But that there is also a lot of support that is available to people and there's no shame in reaching out for help when you need help."

Ms Riley said there are services to help when a person starts to feel overwhelmed, including 24/7 phone services like Lifeline and 13YARN, to places like Wollongong Safe Haven, which provided a supportive space for people thinking about suicide.

"People who are working in suicide prevention do understand that just as the things that might be leading you towards thinking about suicide can be really complex, the solution can also feel like it's really complex and hard," she said.

"But there are people there who do understand and who can support you through finding what it is that you need to have changed or helped in your life that makes your life feel like it's worth living."

  • You can find someone who will listen without judgement at Wollongong Safe Haven (open 2-10pm Wed-Sat, 55 Urunga Parade, Wollongong), Lifeline (24/7, phone 13 11 14) 13YARN (24/7, phone 13 92 76), or the Suicide Call Back Service (24/7 on1300 659 467). If you or someone else is in danger, call 000.


What to do if you're worried about someone

There are also things people can do when they are worried someone else is thinking about suicide.

Ms Riley said these people were in a great position to help, and did not need professional skills or knowledge to do so.

"It's actually in our day-to-day interactions that we get to notice that someone might be behaving in a different way to normal and that you might spot some signs, or even just have a gut feeling that someone might be thinking about suicide," she said.

"And at those times, you can be really well-placed to reach in and let them know that you've noticed that they don't seem to be travelling well, and then listening with really compassionate curiosity.

"I think people can underestimate just how valuable it can be to listen, deeply listen to someone else, and that in itself can be a really powerful act of suicide prevention."

People do not need to be experts to help, but there are resources available that can bolster their confidence to do so.

One of these is QPR (question, persuade, refer) training, a one-hour online course available for free under the Collaborative and Mercury's campaign.

People can sign up at suicidepreventioncollaborative.org.au/training/question-persuade-refer.

Ms Riley said it was important for people to know that a person in distress was not always going to open up the first time, but it could be "really powerful" to check in with them later.

"These can be really, really important steps to take that can help signal to someone that you're someone who is willing to listen and is willing to be part of their support network," she said.


What is the Illawarra Shoalhaven Suicide Prevention Collaborative?

The Collaborative is a group of more than 70 people, including representatives from 30 organisations and community members with lived experience of suicide.

Ms Riley said lived experience was at the heart of the Collaborative's work.

"It's by shining that spotlight on this experience that really helps us ensure that we're not just working in hope, but we're actually moving from aspiration to action," she said.

Members work together to develop, implement and evaluate whole-of-community suicide prevention and postvention strategies.

The Collaborative is currently working on a training program for people who work in alcohol and other drugs services to give them the skills to help clients who might be experiencing suicidal distress.

Ms Riley said this was about bringing "a shared language and approach to working with someone is suicidal" across the mental health, suicide prevention, and alcohol and other drugs spaces.

Next year the Collaborative will also offer a training program for people with lived experience, delivered by the organisation Roses in the Ocean.

Work to support communities after a suicide death is ongoing and the Collaborative is improving its resources on where people can go for help.

The Collaborative is also involved in research projects, including one wrapping up that is focused on support for suicide prevention peer workers.

Those interested in joining the Collaborative can email suicideprevention@coordinare.org.au.