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Providing support for carers following an attempted suicide of a loved one

Jul. 15, 2020

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Brisbane North is one of two regions in Australia chosen to pilot a new evidence-based resource providing information and advice for people close to someone who has attempted suicide.

The You Are Not Alone website has been created by national mental health charity SANE Australia together with research partners University of New England and the University of Sydney, with information about the resource being disseminated locally by Brisbane North PHN.

You Are Not Alone gives information and tools to carers throughout the stages of supporting someone who has attempted suicide, or who is at risk of doing so. The non-linear navigation allows people to find advice that is relevant to them at any time during their carer journey.

SANE Australia CEO Jack Heath says this online tool is especially relevant in this time of uncertainty due to COVID-19. There is a real risk of increased suicide attempts due to deteriorating economic circumstances and resources to support carers will be more important than ever, no matter how long they’ve been caring for someone.

Heath explains that during and immediately after a suicide attempt, it’s natural to want to gather as much information as possible to help the person you care about, but it’s also important to look after yourself too.

“When someone close to you has suicidal thoughts or attempts suicide, it can be hard to respond to their needs while also looking after yourself. The You Are Not Alone website contains information to support this mostly unacknowledged support system of care-givers through a hugely difficult time,” Mr Heath said.

The voices and stories of carers were instrumental in developing the resource and are a key feature of the website. Their lived experience serves as a reminder that although there is no single way to respond to or support someone after they’ve attempted suicide, there are many who have been through this situation.

SANE peer ambassador Jo Buchanan lost a nephew to suicide and is a carer for her son who has attempted to take his own life on several occasions. Reflecting on her experiences Jo says one of the most important things for people in this situation to remember is that there are others going through a similar thing.

“I remember feeling so isolated, so alone and with no idea of where or who I could turn to for support and information. I believe that caring for the carers is very important and this website will help people take the next step and understand that they are not alone,” Jo said.

Sandra is also a SANE peer ambassador and is a carer for her husband who was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2003 and tried to take his own life two years ago. Sandra says her experience following his suicide attempt left her feeling like she was floundering and abandoned, with no direction on how to navigate the system or advice on how to provide care for him and her family.

“Carers play a significant role in the recovery of people who have attempted suicide yet the resources to support them are severely lacking,” she said. “I didn’t even receive a pamphlet from a social worker, wasn’t referred to a support group and no one recognised the trauma that me and my extended family were experiencing. It’s pleasing to see these shortcomings are starting to be addressed, and that resources such as the You Are Not Alone website are available for those who are left to pick up the pieces and provide relevant information at different stages of their lived experience.”

Executive Manager for mental health, alcohol and other drug programs at Brisbane North PHN Paul Martin said he was pleased carers in the Brisbane North region had been offered the opportunity to trial You Are Not Alone.

“This trial aligns closely with the objectives of our five-year joint regional mental health plan, in particular, support for families and carers through the provision of information, resources and skills building,” Mr Martin said.

“Carer participation in the trial is an important way to contribute to the co-design of suicide prevention support services in Brisbane North,” he said.

You Are Not Alone is the final product of the Better Support project, led by SANE Australia with funding support from the Grenet Merrin Foundation and The Ian Potter Foundation. The project’s research partners, University of New England and the University of Sydney, conducted the initial research phase which involved a survey of more than 750 respondents, further qualitative interviews with 32 participants and two ‘think tank’ sessions with people who had cared for someone after they had attempted suicide.

Visit the SANE website for more information.

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