When the city of Grafton’s suicide rate surged above the state average in 2015, the community pulled together to reverse the trend.
More than 100 residents affected by suicide have contributed to a plan to reduce the rate of people taking their own lives in the Clarence Valley region.
The plan was formed after a community meeting in March last year and includes five key objectives:
• Improve the access to evidence-based treatment, crisis care and coordinated care after a suicide attempt
• Improve the capacity of the workforce and the community to respond to people at risk of suicide
• Increase the availability of evidence-based mental health and wellbeing programs within schools
• Improve community awareness of mental health and how to access information and services
• Improve community engagement, early intervention and prevention
The Our Healthy Clarence Plan was launched this week by federal Health Minister Greg Hunt, who announced more than $3.5 million for mental health services in the region.
“The name of the plan says everything. It’s a plan recognising some of the hardships and tragedy, but built on a sense of hope and a community which is taking the lead in defining its own future,” Mr Hunt said.
“Mental health is an issue for each and every Australian. This plan is as strong and clear a community action as I’ve seen anywhere in the country.
“Our role now is to support that plan.”
Our Healthy Clarence committee spokeswoman Wendy Pannach said actions to be taken included the appointment of a child psychiatrist in Grafton, evidence-based education programs to be rolled out in schools, and training for frontline workers.
“Myself and some of the people I work with have sat down with people in the Clarence Valley who attempted suicide,” she said.
“What they have explained to us is that follow-up after a suicide attempt really is one of the biggest gaps in the system, and having coordinated care is something that needs to be established.
“I guess one of our biggest challenges was overcome when the funding was announced. It’s very difficult to make things happen without funding and resources.”
Families share their stories
The Health Minister also used his visit to Grafton to meet with families who had lost loved ones to suicide.
“Their journey is an impossibly difficult journey. I’m a dad and I just can’t imagine a tougher or more difficult journey, but the dignity and courage I saw — that’s as powerful as life can be,” Mr Hunt said.
“Of all of the towns in Australia, my choice of Grafton was because of the need and because all of the locals have recognised they need to take responsibility.”
One of the community members who met with Mr Hunt was Michael Powell, whose 16-year-old daughter Emma died last December.
Mr Powell said the community had been left with a feeling of hope as a result of the plan and the Minister’s visit.
“We spoke about the struggles Emma had with the mental health unit and the hospital and how she was turned away time and time again,” he said.
“We also spoke about the future and how the community have done what they’ve done to bring it where it is today.
“I think the message they got was that everyone’s story sounded very similar, and the feeling of neglect that was in the region is something that I think they went away with.
“I think that’s how we connected as a community and we’re the ones that made this all happen. It wasn’t done by people in hospitals.
“Resources and money make the engines run, but we gave it a good push and our story got put out there.”
If you or anyone you know needs help:
• Lifeline on 13 11 14
• Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
• MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
• Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
• Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36
• Headspace on 1800 650 890