Colin Tatz wrote in an article on youth suicide in Aboriginal communities,
A focus on community, rather than isolated problems, is essential.
We should acknowledge that the only sovereignty many youth of all kinds and classes have in life is sovereignty over their own lives and bodies. It is, all too often, their only form of empowerment. They can suffer it, as so many do, or they can end it, as so many do. A decision to conclude that sovereignty cannot be treated with a pill or on the phone or by a booked appointment.
A holistic team approach involving a number of professions – doctors, nurses, health workers, psychologists, counsellors, and particularly grief counsellors – and community members — is essential if there is to be any progress. That group must also include sports people and sports organisers.
We need a “total community” project, a focus on restoring or recreating community rules rather than focusing on one specific problem, such as suicide, as if it can be dealt with in isolation.
Such an approach would include awareness raising among our community people around suicide awareness, prevention, postvention, and grief and loss counselling. Suggestions provided by people interviewed for the Rising Spirits project include:
- People need to talk about suicide, bring it out into the open, and how it affects our families and community
One of the older fullas in our community, and he’s a respected elder, his daughter committed suicide. He was quite open about that and he wanted to share that with people. That was a support mechanism for him and that was a great thing.
- Information is needed about:
- The risk factors, the warning signs, and ways for responding
- The simple ways that people can help in supporting one another, giving moral support, providing a place for the bereaved to ”sit down and talk, to release a balloon, anything that makes them feel good”.
- Women’s, Men’s, Elders’ and Youth support groups provide the opportunity for yarning, being listened to and sharing of stories. They usually include yarning over a cuppa and snacks, in a safe place, with the option to do a variety of creative activities, and bush trips. The kinds of creative activities could include painting, leather work, craft work, poetry or song writing and singing. Just having an opportunity to share your experiences with others can be invaluable, for example, ‘One lady at the Bereavement Through Suicide Group said, “I just cry all the time and I can’t stop. And this Aboriginal lady said, “Why would you want to stop?” “Why would you want to stop crying, you know if ever there was a time for crying this is the time for crying and cry until you know there aren’t any more tears because really you’re communicating aren’t you, like if your tears could speak what would they be saying?”’
- Training of more Aboriginal Health Workers to provide grief counselling, and run suicide awareness programs including pre- and post-vention.
- Facilitating transport for clients and their families to funerals. A health worker explained, ‘There was three family funerals to this person. They weren’t able to get to any of them and I got a feeling that had a lot to contribute to his suicide.’
Suicide Prevention program for prisoners
Lifeline partners with the privately owned Mt Gambier Prison offering a comprehensive holistic program package which includes:
- Training in suicide prevention for all prison staff
- Counselling training for selected prisoners for the Listeners Program which provides peer support to fellow prisoners
- Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST). Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST)
- Financial literacy training for all prisoners, and
- Suicide bereavement counselling services.
The Listeners program
The Listeners program is a ‘Prisoner Peer Support Counselling Program’ aimed at preventing suicide and self-harm among prisoners. The program aims to educate the prisoners ‘to let go of their anger, blame and shame’ by looking at what makes them human and encouraging them ‘to be a better version for themselves, for their fellow prisoners and for society as a whole.’
Currently, there are 22 trained Listeners at the prison, including about 6 who are Aboriginal, who are available 24/7. The rationale for training prisoners as counsellors is that if a prisoner is feeling really down, he is more likely to confide in a fellow prisoner than anyone else in the prison. All new arrivals are supported by a Listener during their first two days in prison, which have proven to be critical. The prison guards respect the Listeners and ask for their advice or assistance if they’re worried about a prisoner.
The Listener training is an intensive 10 week course delivered by the Lifeline South East CEO with two Listeners who have undergone train-the-trainer. The training uses a narrative approach, with no prison officers present ‘as personal experiences, past traumas and emotional disclosures are sensitive areas.’ There is a long waiting list for the training. The trainees actually find the training therapeutic because it is ‘really about valuing their life experiences… They don’t realise just how much wisdom they’ve got and so if you can make it fun and friendly and something that they really enjoy being part of, they’re learning heaps’.
For more information about the work of Lifeline South East (SA) Inc. at Mount Gambier Prison contact CEO on (08) 8723 2299 or firstname.lastname@example.org.