Where to turn when a loved one tries to take their life

REAL CHANGE: Guiding Their Way Back Support Groups send the message to all people affected by a suicide attempt that they are not alone.Suicide is a major issue of community concern throughout Australia and in the Hunter.

More than 3000 people take their lives each year in Australia and this issue is getting more attention. But what is less known and less talked about, is the number of people who attempt suicide each year and the affect that this behaviour has on those individuals and loved ones who care for them.

As a conservative estimate, more than 65,000 Australians make a suicide attempt each year. These individuals can experience a range of physical, psychological, emotional and social challenges following the eventand are at much higher risk of a further attempt or death by suicide.For a person who has attempted to take their life, the days and weeks following the event can be stressful and emotional.

But, it’s important to note, that it is also a difficult and emotional time for those who love and care for the person. Feelings such as anger, fear, shock and questioning why the suicide attempt has occurred are commonly experienced by close family and friends. While there has been progress on ensuring better supports for people after a suicide attempt, like the Way Back Support Service being run between Hunter Primary Care and the Calvary Mater Hospital, less focus locally or nationally has been given to supporting families, friends and carers.

We know that for many people with health or mental health problems, most of the practical and emotional day-to-day support is provided by family and friends. The same is true for those who are recovering from a suicide attempt, yet partners, parents, sibling, friends and colleagues are largely left unsupported.

Family members often have a list of unanswered questions about the suicide attempt, how to navigate the myriad services and professionals in the community that support suicidal individuals.

After a national consultation with people who had attempted suicide and their loved ones, the Hunter Institute of Mental Health has worked with local service providers andcommunity members to design and pilot a new approach to support those who need it.

In partnership with Relationships Australia, a new support program is available in Newcastle for anyone who is caring for or supporting someone recovering from a recent suicide attempt.Guiding Their Way Back Support Groups are free for anyone in the community, with the option of a one-off information session or an additional four-week small group program where people can get further information, learn skills and receive support from others.

The program has been designed with people who have real experience of a suicide attempt. It includes skill-building on how to manage difficult conversations with their loved ones, tips on how to care for themselves during this very stressful time, and information on support services. This program will no only provide immediate information and support to family members, friends and carers locally, but will be used as a prototype for a national service.

For information on finding a Guiding Their Way Back Support Group, contact Relationships Australia NSW on (02) 4940 1500. For more details about the groups, visit himh.org.au/GTWBsupportgroups

For immediate help 24/7:Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467;Lifeline13 11 14;Kids Helpline 1800 551 800;MensLine Australia 1300 789 978

Victoria Clack is senior project officer at Hunter Institute of Mental Health