Support groups for people living in the shadow of suicide are beginning to grow around Australia and become more effective advocates.
Advocates in the fields of health and social support often struggle in their early years to find a solid evidence base to guide their growth and programs. In the case of suicide prevention, this can be especially difficult due to the infancy of program development.
Griffith’s Australian Institute for Suicide Prevention (AISRAP) is an important resource for such groups to build a solid evidence base for campaigns or training programs.
These advocates are organisations are representing voices of “lived experience” and is similar to models of consumer advocacy which became strong in the 80s and 90s, especially around mental health.
The Brisbane-based, national organisation Roses in the Ocean was formed in 2008 following the death by suicide of Mark Edwards, a popular pilot whose sister Ms Bronwen Edwards is the organisations founder and CEO. Roses in the Ocean provides support for people living with or close to people at risk of suicide or people who have survived the suicide of a loved one.
Lead by senior lecturer and researcher, Jacinta Hawgood, AISRAP is partnering with Roses in the Ocean as consultants to assess the group’s lived experience training programs each with various program objectives ultimately ensuring that the participation of those with lived experience in the suicide prevention workforce is safe and informative.
“Lived experience groups have really provided a paradigm shift in understanding suicidal behaviour and suicide prevention strategies,” Ms Hawgood said.
“RITO is one of these consumer groups leading the way in terms of lived experience and they are extraordinarily active in their work. They are open to wanting to know ‘what works’ and how they impact the suicide prevention workforce.
“AISRAP can help develop the evidence base around the areas of Roses in the Ocean’s work where there is little to no history. They can subsequently develop best practice guidelines for these programs. We can also act as a trusted advisor to many of their activities. There’s a lot of ‘back and forth’ and value for both sides,” she said.
AISRAP has signed multiple consultancy agreements to evaluate programs, undertake co-tendering opportunities, as well as becoming a key supporter in Roses in the Ocean’s upcoming first ever annual Lived Experience Summit.
With Australia’s unacceptable suicide rates, governments of all stripes are keen to support and engage lived experience groups, acknowledging their key role in contributing to prevention. RITO are not just content to offer advocacy, they offer training, support and mentorship for people wanting to contribute to suicide prevention.
Bronwen Edwards, founder and CEO of Roses in the Ocean concedes they and organisations like them are essentially carving their own way forward.
“We are literally building our own road as we grow. Everyone comes to us with a unique experience and story, because a lived experience of suicide is always unique,” she said.
“Their lived experience could be as someone who has made a suicide attempt, or experiencing suicidal thoughts; a carer of someone experiencing suicidal crisis or a person grieving the death by suicide of a loved one.
“Most of the people with lived experience who come to us do so because they want to make a difference, they want to “do” something to save others from experiencing what they have. Other people come for support. Many of the people we work with end up offering to work closely with Roses in the Ocean as mentors or volunteers.
“Because the whole sector is new, evidence to inform quality programs can be a bit thin on the ground. This is where a partnership with AISRAP is crucial,” said Ms Edwards.
The sector is highly dependent on volunteers, so the programs being developed need to be rigorous and repeatable so volunteers are able to capably support highly vulnerable people.
The partnership signals a significant knowledge and evidence transfer opportunity to an entire sector (not just Roses in the Ocean) that could be built on through AISRAP’s long-term research into suicide prevention.