Bega Valley Mental Health month launched this week under the shadow of increasing suicide figures for the country.
In a release last week by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, it was reported 3128 Australians took their own lives in 2017, a 9.1 per cent increase over the previous year and the highest rate in a decade.
That equates to more than eight lives lost to suicide every day and suicide remains the leading cause of death for all Australians aged 15-44 years.
Locally, Lifeline South Coast answered 23,814 calls during 2017 – 20,957 of those calls specifically discussed suicide.
Rachel Norris, Lifeline South Coast CEO, was in Bega for the launch of Mental Health Month, and said the figures were “confronting” and “heartbreaking”.
“Any life lost to suicide is terrible and it’s concerning to see this increase in suicide deaths,” Ms Norris said.
“However, the number of calls our volunteer crisis supporters are answering is rising and, while that’s tough, it is also a good thing. It means that more people are seeking help, more people are talking about their concerns, and more people are calling Lifeline for help.”
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Lifeline South Coast covers an area from Helensburgh to the border, with its head office in Wollongong. Ms Norris said she was committed to increase the organisation’s presence in the Bega Valley.
“SPAN [Suicide Prevention Action Network] is phenomenal and doing wonderful work here already,” she said.
“We are asking how do we augment and enhance what they are doing. We really want to understand from the community what’s going on and what will help. What is it you need? What role can Lifeline have in that?”
“The 24-hour telephone crisis support service is the central part of what we do. But now, we are looking at new ways of working within the Illawarra and South Coast communities to help more and more people become suicide aware.
“Lifeline South Coast has started offering a range of suicide prevention and awareness training sessions aimed not only at front-line workers, but also the general community.
“It is important that we can all recognise the signs of suicide and know what we can do to help,” Ms Norris said.
Among the services Lifeline South Coast provides is an online training course in QPR – question, persuade and refer – how to recognise someone is having a crisis and appropriately respond.
“We say suicide is everyone’s business – but that’s difficult to say if people don’t feel skilled enough to deal with it,” Ms Norris said.
“This is about building a toolkit if you like, of strategies people can use, and getting a community empowered enough to notice and understand what they are seeing and what they can do about it.
“It’s all about prevention rather than getting to a point when it’s critical.”
Other services Ms Norris said are being trialled by Lifeline include confidential text counselling and other digital solutions for anyone not comfortable with a phone call.
“Imagine you need help while at a bus stop or out in public, you can be texting Lifeline support completely anonymously at a time, place and method that works for you,” she said.
“We know we have to innovate in ways of providing help-seekers with access, and so we can connect with people where they’re at and with the tools they use.”
Find out more about QPR training and other courses offered by Lifeline South Coast at www.lifelinesouthcoast.org.au/training.
- If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, help is always available.
Lifeline 13 11 14
beyondblue 1300 224 636
Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800