Five years on from the death of Sandy’s husband by suicide, what are we doing differently to support those in her shoes today?
Sandy Smith is the NSW Support After Suicide Lived Experience Outreach Worker, Illawarra Shoalhaven
“When my husband died by suicide in 2017, there was no helpful or relevant support for me and my family in the Illawarra. The grief counsellors I was referred to fell short of what I needed and seemed to have a complete lack of understanding around this particular type of traumatic grief. The local school counsellor told me to never tell my children it was a suicide as they wouldn’t be able to handle the guilt. I felt shut down and unheard right from the beginning.
Suicide grief is traumatic and different to other grief, it comes with extremely complicated emotions such as rejection, guilt, anger and shame. There was nowhere in my local area to help me unpack what I was going through.
When I connected to people with a lived experience of suicide bereavement, through the Illawarra Shoalhaven Suicide Prevention Collaborative, they understood the critical need for connection and their individual experiences inspired me to find hope. I began using my suicide bereavement story to advocate for awareness of this traumatic grief and it became my passion to help others who have been bereaved by suicide within my local area.
When it was announced that the NSW Government was investing money into StandBy Support After Suicide to deliver a postvention consortium service in NSW (NSW Post Suicide Support), I jumped on the opportunity to be involved. I was part of the state and local co-design process and applied for the position of the Lived Experience Outreach Worker for my local Illawarra Shoalhaven area.
Now as a StandBy Support After Suicide Lived Experience Outreach Worker in the Illawarra, I use my deep understanding of this grief to connect and acknowledge the people we support’s pain and the complications they are experiencing around a death by suicide. I feel very honoured and privileged to be able to work with people within my local community. We meet on their terms, whether over the phone, in home visits, coffee at local cafes or walks at the park.”
About the NSW Post Suicide Support initiative
StandBy Support After Suicide leads the NSW Post Suicide Support initiative (NSW PSS), a NSW Ministry of Health Towards Zero Suicides initiative, in partnership with Jesuit Social Services, Roses in the Ocean and the University of New England.
The NSW PSS uses a consortium approach to provide whole of community postvention support services across Sydney, South Coast NSW, and the Blue Mountains to support anyone bereaved or impacted by suicide. The four project partners developed the service model based on their collective experience and by harnessing existing local services.
PSS Regional Coordinator for South Eastern NSW, Katie Darby said the program provides support services which are flexible and responsive to individual needs, culturally appropriate, and co-designed with people who have lived experience of suicide bereavement.
“Anyone impacted through a death by suicide across the Illawarra and NSW, either recently or in the past, can access support that truly responds to their needs. Our local team, which includes support coordinators, lived experience workers and counsellors, work together to offer a suite of support options for our community,” Katie Darby said.
“Those bereaved by suicide told us of the importance of having someone walk alongside them as they navigate the complex processes that follow a death by suicide, the importance of emotional and practical support without judgment or shame, and the importance of connecting with others with a similar lived experience.”
Katie believes the most important thing she wants people to know is, that free support is available now, particularly for those who may not have had suicide bereavement support in the past when they may have needed it.
“It is a very important time for the postvention sector across Australia, as we rapidly expand the support available to individuals, families and communities impacted by suicide and look at ways to enhance and embed a more community focused response.”
“The Illawarra really is at the forefront of this national shift in how we support communities impacted after a death by suicide and I am grateful to be able to work closely with the Illawarra Shoalhaven Suicide Prevention Collaborative and their many relevant members to ensure a coordinated community response that understands the broad reach and significant impacts this kind of loss has on our communities,” Katie Darby said.
NSW state-wide coverage is available through the NSW PSS alongside the Commonwealth funded StandBy Support After Suicide program. StandBy is also available as a free service Australia-wide, so all Australians have access to support after suicide at any time after their loss.
StandBy is available 24/7 on 1300 727 247 or visit www.standbysupport.com.au
Thank you to the Illawarra Mercury for inviting Sandy Smith, Executive Member of the Illawarra Shoalhaven Suicide Prevention Collaborative to share her story in this opinion piece.
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