Mental health boost

LIFELINE had a full house for last week's two-day Suicide Intervention workshop, part of Mental Health Week.

Organiser Lyn Anderson said the workshop was fully subscribed with 18 people from 12 different organisations and branches of organisations working in welfare and community services attending the training.

The workshop was free for participants thanks to funding provided through Coffs Harbour City Council by local registered clubs which are required to pay a percentage of their gambling revenue into community development.

Psychologist Julie Curnow, one of the trainers, said although exact figures on suicide were not available; her 'gut feeling' was that Coffs Harbour had a higher rate of suicide than many comparable centres.

She said people attending the workshop were surprised by some of the identifiable signals from people contemplating suicide, even when they are not talking openly about their plans.

She said triggers and signals for suicide were many and varied, from losing a job or a relationship breakdown to giving away possessions or a change in demeanour, although any of them could occur and not signal an intention to die.

"The training is intense and multi-layered - it can be our own attitudes which are barriers to helping the person," Ms Curnow said.

"Men are statistically more likely to (commit suicide) but that does not mean women will not - men are more likely to use violent means - shotgun versus tablets - people can go through a rough period, then appear to be happy and satisfied - other people relax their vigilance, then they commit suicide," she said.

"Sometimes the person is relaxed because he or she has made the decision."

Ms Curnow said many people hedged at asking direct questions of someone they were worried about, but these were the questions that should be asked.

"Anyone in the community could be thinking of suicide and anyone can intervene effectively by taking the time to stop and listen," she said.

She said the simple connection to another human being was the vital first step - suicide first aid.

"You should ask the person: "are you thinking of committing suicide - is this what we are talking about?" she said.

"It clarifies the situation.

"Most people then panic because they don't know what to do at this point.

"You should sit with the person and honour the place they are in.

"Ask them why they want to die. Tell them you are there to listen.

"It relieves the pressure.

"Then we are committed to doing something to give the person a reason to live, gathering resources to give them a broader perspective from friends, family, counsellors, churches, youth groups, sporting groups, neighbours."