Suicide prevention strategy is hope in action

On Thursday the Hon Bronnie Taylor MLC, NSW Minister for Mental Health, launched the refreshed suicide prevention strategic framework, Shifting the landscape for suicide prevention in NSW.

The updated framework lays out the plan for a whole-of-government approach for a whole-of-community response to suicide prevention across the state.

Members of the Illawarra Shoalhaven Suicide Prevention Collaborative helped inform this framework via a consultation held in March.

The framework moves away from a medicalised model of suicide prevention geared towards people with mental illness, and instead considers the social determinants of suicide risk, including financial distress, loneliness, and relationship breakdowns.

I've been reflecting on how this key document fits into the day-to-day reality of suicide prevention, and what role it plays in our community as we seek to reduce suffering and prevent suicide.

Where I landed was that it gives me hope. The NSW Government has the opportunity to make a significant positive impact on the lives of many. The strategic framework is a statement to our communities that the government cares about preventing suicide.

But hope is a complex word when considered in the context of suicide.

Safe spaces can take many different forms. Sometimes they are bricks and mortar, sometimes virtual. But always they are spaces that welcome you in with compassionate human connection.

Those experiencing the depths of suicidal despair know this intimately. When deeply suicidal, all hope is gone, and the relentless pain of today looks set to repeat every tomorrow.

It's a desperately exhausting space to be in, and simply staying alive in the moment takes immense energy. Solutions to your problems seem beyond you, beyond hope. False hope and empty promises only deepen despair.

When hope can't be found within yourself, you need to find it elsewhere. We need people, places and community that provide compassion, connection, inclusion, and safety to those who feel hopeless. In these spaces, a spark of hope can be shared and nurtured. Support can be provided to help someone take steps towards better days.

Safe spaces can take many different forms. Sometimes they are bricks and mortar, sometimes virtual. But always they are spaces that welcome you in with compassionate human connection.

If you need a safe space, you will be welcomed by suicide prevention peer workers at Wollongong Safe Haven (open 2-10pm Wed-Sat, 55 Urunga Parade, Wollongong).

You can find someone who will listen without judgement at Lifeline (24/7, phone 13 11 14) or 13YARN (24/7, phone 13 92 76). For those who have lost a loved one by suicide, StandBy Support After Suicide (24/7, phone 1300 727 247) and Thirrili Indigenous Postvention Support (24/7, phone 1800 805 801) offer emotional and practical support.

I'm heartened by the progress made in NSW over the past few years to enhance suicide prevention and it gives me hope for what we can achieve with sustained or increased momentum. But the reality is that we are still in the early stage of a journey towards a target of zero suicide.

On average, we lose over 900 people to suicide each year in NSW, around 50 of these are people who live in the Illawarra Shoalhaven region. There are countless individuals, families and communities grieving for their lost loved ones.

Hope can be hard to grapple with when you lose someone you love by suicide. You'd like to hope that the past could be changed but that is an impossible wish. Hope must be about a better future, about learning from loss, about preventing more suffering.

In suicide prevention we need to learn by centring lived experience at the heart of reform, as our compass and as our yardstick of progress. Doing so can help spark hope in those experiencing crisis, honour the memory of those we have lost by suicide, and keep us focused on creating a society where all people can live and thrive.

Shining the spotlight on lived experience helps ensure hope shifts from aspiration to action.

So, coming back to how the new strategic framework fits into the daily reality of helping people find a life worth living. Documents alone will not do this. Hope needs to be paired with action.

If you'd like to learn more about how you can get involved in the action, come along to the Illawarra Shoalhaven Suicide Prevention Collaborative's Connecting Together 2022 event at Kiama Pavillion, 31 October, 9.30am. Register via our website

Jo Riley is an Executive Member of the Illawarra Shoalhaven Suicide Prevention Collaborative.