Shattering stigma to help prevent suicide

Rural Adversity Mental Health Program coordinator Jennie Keioskie chats with fellow SPAN members during an education focused meeting at Club Bega on Thursday.
Rural Adversity Mental Health Program coordinator Jennie Keioskie chats with fellow SPAN members during an education focused meeting at Club Bega on Thursday.

Working to prevent suicide has been a key focus of Mental Health Month across the Bega Valley.

Rural Adversity Mental Health Program (RAMHP) coordinator and Bega Valley Suicide Prevention Action Network (SPAN) founding member Jennie Keioskie held an educational session for SPAN members in Bega on Thursday, aimed at bettering communication surrounding the issue of suicide.

“Every death is a tragedy,” Ms Keioskie said.

“The big push now is to try to get people who are bereaved or have mental health issues to share their stories.”

More than 3000 Australians took their own life in 2015, more than eight people a day, a statistic Ms Keioskie and SPAN members are devoted to reducing.

“Most of the people in the room have a close connection to the issue,” Ms Keioskie said.

The mental health worker said she has seen positive action take place in the Bega Valley, she has not seen in other parts of the Southern NSW Local Health District.

“We are lucky we have the police on board down here as well,” she said.

“They do a lot of grief and loss work you’d never think about.”

One member of the organisation has spoken openly about the personal impacts of suicide, a move that has  a positive ripple effect throughout the community due to her attempts to lower the levels of stigma the issue has.

“For weeks after I told my story people who would normally never talk to me shared their stories because they had never had the opportunity,” SPAN secretary Helen Best said after publicly sharing her story of the loss of her son to suicide last year.

“It’s not the kind of thing you talk about at the dinner table.”

Ms Best feels Australian culture must shift towards allowing for open conversations about death.

“Our attitude to death is not conducive to making things better,” she said

“We need to change the culture to make it more open.”

Ms Best said despite her father’s progressive attitude in many respects, when it came to death things were a little different.

“I know in my family women weren’t allowed to go to funerals, even up to 20 or 30 years ago,” Ms Best said.

“There was a feeling the women might cry and upset the men, but if you can’t shed a tear at death then when can you?

“The fear of appearing weak and vulnerable is not seen as manly.”

Ms Best said although “at first you think you’re going mad”, opening up and speaking to someone helped her through her emotions.

“You never get over it, you build a life around it,” she said.

“Intellectually you know you’ll get through it, but at the time it’s not your intellect in charge and you can feellike you’ll never have a full life again.

“You have to rebuild from the beginning.

“People say I’m brave, but I’m lucky to have good help and support around me.”

If this article has raised any concerns with you, please contact one of the following organisations:

Lifeline: 13 11 14, lifeline.org.au

Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467

beyondblue: 1300 224 636, beyondblue.org.au