Saturday, 09 July 2016 09:49

Lifeline ready to help

Written by  Lifeline Australia chief executive Pete Shmigel
Lifeline id responding to the crisis in dairy (Bon Adrien via Flickr). Lifeline id responding to the crisis in dairy (Bon Adrien via Flickr).

IN the past few weeks, we at Lifeline, the country’s largest crisis support and suicide prevention service, have been asking ourselves the same question as millions of Australians: what’s the best way to help?

As part of dealing with more than one million interactions with Australians on the phone and online this year, Lifeline has decided to roll-out a dairy crisis “rapid response”.

Our 4000 Crisis Supporter volunteers are not the full solution, but we believe we share responsibility with the overall Australian community to do what we can for our friends, neighbours and workmates on the land.

In rapidly responding, it’s first important to clearly see things for what they are.

There is real financial pain being felt by many farmers and the many others who are part of the dairying value chain.

We’ve been getting the calls already, as well as outreach from our rural partners to our centres in places like Ballarat, Albury-Wodonga, Warrnambool, Geelong and Gippsland.

But at the same time, we need to stay measured. There are as yet no confirmed reports of suicide that are directly related to the crisis – and that is a blessing.

Having said that, we do know that Australia is in the midst of an overall national emergency when it comes to suicide – with record high deaths in 2014.

And, suicide rates in country areas can be twice as high as in city areas and middle aged men are particularly vulnerable.

We also know from our own service experience and from evidence-based knowledge around suicidal behaviour that an additional financial burden, especially when people feel there is no way forward, can exacerbate an already fragile situation in their lives and fuel thoughts of suicide.

A recent study that Lifeline participated in with the University of Melbourne and Victorian Coroners Court in southwest Victoria, a major dairy region, looked at 70 local suicides going back the last five years using the Victorian Suicide Register.

It found that men working in the agricultural labour pool – in contract and casual work – were especially noticeable in the statistics on suicide deaths.

And, they can be the first ones to feel a downturn as farmers have limited choices about cutting costs.

So we need to make sure the offer of help is made to all those affected by the dairy industry issues.

Lifeline is there for the people who need our help.

To that end, we’ve made sure our Crisis Supporters have extra information on the dairy crisis and its impact on those who may call us.

We’re also spreading the word that through 13 11 14 we are there 24/7 for anyone who needs to talk.

People need to know that having suicidal thoughts happens to lots of us during times of great personal struggle – including those with no mental health issues - and the best way to deal with them is to talk to someone.

That sense of being overwhelmed and out-of-control, and a burden to others, very often passes if given the chance through the power of active listening and unconditional support that Lifeline provides.

We need to draw on community strengths – as resources that help prevent suicide. Let’s leverage the absolute strengths of country people: their sense of community.

People in country areas still know their neighbours and still say g’day in the High Street. That sounds insignificant – it’s not.

We can build on existing community strengths by starting more training for country community groups on mental health awareness and spotting the signs of suicide, responding appropriately and referring to professional help where necessary.

Country people already take care of each other – and we can give them more knowledge and skills to do so in a way that further protects against crisis and suicide.

But, to be truthful, many people don’t need to be trained to see or hear when a friend or colleague is struggling.

Their appearance might be different, or they might be withdrawing, or they might be going harder on the drink, or they’ll just say something.

Know that it’s a myth that asking about suicide puts the idea in their head – the evidence shows that it actually helps them and relieves a huge burden for most people having the thoughts.

Those on the land regretfully know what crisis means – be it drought, flood or commodity swings.

They know we get through them by looking after each other.

Lifeline will always be part of that and is now there for those who need us in the dairy community.

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