Looking out for each other is a way of life in the Shire. Ask anyone what they love most about living in the Bellingen Shire and they will answer without hesitation -“it’s the wonderful community”. But frontline health workers and community leaders know that our most vulnerable can often feel alone or physically isolated. And this sense of isolation can be the catalyst for devastating outcomes.
Community Development Worker and Bellingen local Celeste Abell, is the Suicide Prevention Project Coordinator for the Bellingen Neighbourhood Centre. The Centre received funding from the North Coast Primary Health Network to trial LifeSpan, an evidence-based approach to suicide prevention from The Black Dog Institute. “My role is to work with the communities across the Shire to break down the stigmas around mental health and build capacity and resilience, ultimately working towards suicide prevention,” says Celeste.
The Lifespan Program aims to
- build a safety net for the community
- connect and coordinate new and existing interventions and programs.
- build capacity to better support people in the community.
The trial commenced October 2019. In November Celeste conducted community forums in Dorrigo, Bellingen and Urunga to garner facts and strategies which will increase help-seeking behaviour and improve wellbeing in our communities. “We were able to have rich discussions. Excellent ideas were generated by the three community groups that have really informed the work I’ve been doing. Of course, the Bellingen Shire is very diverse so there can’t be a ‘one size fits all’ approach. However, the diversity makes for rich sharing when you bring community leaders together. I am pleased to announce that the trial funding has been extended 12 months, so I am currently developing an action plan that will be rolled out over the next year,” says Celeste.
As is the case across the country, the primary cohort deemed most vulnerable in our region is the middle aged to older male. Maybe less well known however, women are more likely to attempt suicide across Australia. “Our focus is on all vulnerable groups in this area. However, we are particularly concerned for the stoic farmers, who are community leaders. How do they then reach out for help?”
Celeste’s work is informed by a local steering committee consisting of representatives from Council, The Neighbourhood Centre, Bello Youth Hub, the three Chambers of Commerce and Bellingen Hospital mental health workers and is referred to as the Dorrigo, Urunga, Bellingen Suicide Prevention Action Network.
Subsequent to last year’s community forums, workshops and skills sessions for community groups were planned for earlier this year. “Our plan is to upskill everyone in the community and build capacity for greater resilience and understanding. Whether participants gain the ability to self-assess, thereby realising when and where they can access help, or we are skilling participants to recognise warning signs and feel more confident to offer assistance to their family member, neighbour or friend,” she says. Unfortunately, the planned workshops and skills sessions were cancelled due to Covid-19.
The motivated community members of Dorrigo weren’t going to be thwarted by Covid. They continued to meet with Celeste once weekly via Zoom during the period of social restrictions. They helped to devise flyers that were delivered across the Dorrigo region, so that the most vulnerable would still have that essential contact despite enforced isolation.
As we emerge from social restrictions, Celeste is ready to act, gathering community groups from right across the Shire for upskilling. The ultimate plan is to have three hubs, with as many community members trained as needed, who would work with the steering committee. When the federally funded program is wound down, these volunteers will be able to drive the initiatives themselves, supporting the whole community.
Celeste also wants to work with and train existing groups and has targeted Mens Sheds, sporting groups and workers at the Produce Stores in both Dorrigo and Bellingen, who visit isolated farms. Frontline health workers, GPs and pharmacists will also be encouraged to refresh their knowledge, reiterating on things they already know and ensuring they are fully versed in best practice for dealing with mental health clients. “We need as many members of existing groups to feel equipped to have that important conversation… Are You OK?”
“It is really about linking people, looking out for each other. In a small community one loss shakes the whole town. We want to let people know there is hope and support here for them.
For further information about the project contact Celeste Abell 0438 750 637/ [email protected]
If this article has brought anything up for you, please call Lifeline for 24 hour counselling on 13 11 14.
For more information about LifeSpan visit: https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/research/lifespan
One hour on-line training is available through the QPR Institute (Question, Persuade, Respond).
See link below: