Whitsunday Suicide Prevention Network president Ron Petterson speaks at a memorial service for those who have been lost to suicide.
Whitsunday Suicide Prevention Network president Ron Petterson speaks at a memorial service for those who have been lost to suicide. Contributed

How the Whitsundays is helping break down stigma of suicide

"ALL the conversations that we're now having about suicide across the country, including the Whitsundays, are making it easier for people to talk,” Ron Petterson said.

Cr Petterson, who is president of the Whitsunday Suicide Prevention Network and a Whitsunday councillor, was MC at Mantra Club Croc's Melbourne Cup function, which raised $4500 for suicide prevention and support.

"It was wonderful to see a local restaurant put on a luncheon and take the opportunity to turn it into a fundraising event for a local charity as well - not a lot of places do that,” he said.

"I take my hat off to them,” he said.

Cr Petterson said "there's so much talk on the table just now” surrounding suicide, that the stigma about discussing mental health issues and depression was starting to break down.

"It is removing the stigma which is so important,” he said.

"I think all the conversations we're having now means people are more comfortable talking about it, and that's all they need to do -talk.

"I do believe that particularly in the Whitsundays, we've seen more people engaging with community events, and talking, which is great,” he said.

The Whitsunday Suicide Prevention Network received "great support” in the region, he said.

"And I think the reason is, sadly, we have one of the highest rates of suicide and suicide attempts in the state, and we're also quite high up as far as the country goes.

"We're a small community, a lot of people here are generational and have lived here a long time and everyone knows everyone. So the ripple effect goes right across everyone when we lose someone.

"I think everyone here has been touched by suicide at some time so it's very personal for this region.”

Cr Petterson said over the past couple of years the network had seen nearly 1000 people across the region trained in intervention techniques.

"That's about the community learning to recognise the signs in people who need help and also learning how to approach a person and start a conversation.”

He said support was provided for families who had suffered a loss or near loss through suicide by funding counselling support with local services "so families don't have that financial burden”.

"Over the last 18 months we've helped over 20 cases with family and individual support.

"We know that when there is a suicidal incident, the family members are 40 times more at risk of doing the same thing.

"When someone takes their life and you're a parent or a sibling, the impact is huge, and there's a different type of grief associated because of self-blame, anger and guilt for not seeing the signs, when in truth the signs are most of the time very hard to see.

"So, it's really important to bring that counselling and support in.”

Cr Petterson said the network also focussed on ensuring people suffering depression or mental health issues knew they were not alone.

"We have a saying, 'You can talk, I will listen - your life matters.'

"One decision to pick up a phone or go to a mate's house for a chat can change a whole situation and can result in a person's life being changed to a positive outcome for them and those that love them.

"It takes one second to make a choice.”

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