Life isn’t always easy or fair, but there is always hope. Martina McGrath should know. The founder of the Suicide Attempt Survivors Support Group, many would say, really has been to hell and back.
In May 2013 Martina sustained 70 per cent burns to her entire body, as a result of self-immolation (setting oneself on fire), following a long period of multi-layered social and mental health problems, including financial stress, imminent homelessness, isolation and bullying.
She spent the next 18 months in the Royal Brisbane & Women’s Hospital. To date, Martina has had 20 rounds of surgery with many more to come. Fast forward two and a half years and Martina – set to speak at AISRAP’s World Suicide Prevention Day (Sep 10) Community Forum in Brisbane – is the motivating force behind a ground breaking Australian pilot project for suicide attempt survivors, which will operate under the auspices of Griffith’s Australian Institute for Suicide Prevention and Research (AISRAP).

With an application for its funding currently lodged with the Queensland Mental Health Commission, the Suicide Attempt Survivors Support Group will be the first group of its kind in Australasia for suicide attempt survivors. This innovative approach to care of suicidal persons is unique in that it reflects a non-clinical, non-medicalised approach which may be used as an adjunct to other clinical interventions.

“Led by myself and supported by a clinical psychologist, we will be aiming to help people who are struggling with suicidal thoughts and past suicide attempts, with the key concepts being to inject hope, connectedness, inclusion and purpose, recovery and resilience all underpinned by a two-way model of non-clinical based care,” says Martina.

“It is important for us to know what the unique needs are of this group that will allow them to move past suicidal ideation – away from the fire so to speak – and to step forward into the light. “Unfortunately, people don’t often realise that suicide in Australia, is the leading cause of death for people aged 15-44, so this work is very important. On a personal level, I have been through some times where I perceived there to be no love or hope in my own life, so I know these things are crucial to enabling people to work through these kinds of issues and other potential ‘red flags’ in their lives.”
Part of the ‘Voices of Lived Experience Panel’ at the Forum, Martina will discuss her long road to physical and mental recovery and her commitment to ensuring that it is the very best she can make it. “The panel will collectively reflect the voices of those who have been suicidal, attempted suicide, and/or have been bereaved by suicide, in a session that will bring light and direction to suicide prevention, recovery and resilience,” says Forum Chair, Ms Jacinta Hawgood, AISRAP senior lecturer and clinical psychologist.

“The group will be exploratory and a safe haven for gaining insights into hopeful ways of living. Importantly, it will be evaluated by AISRAP’s clinical and expert researchers.
“We hope that the contributions of our panellists will directly inform and positively impact policy makers, researchers and clinicians in the field of suicide prevention, as well as reach out and bring hope to these audiences and consumers or others with lived experience.”