Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians aged 15-44 years of age.
These are not just numbers. They are loved ones who should be here. In 2015, my son, Billy, at just 15, was one of them. I am a welfare worker, but we saw no signs.
Billy lived a full life with friends, was active in the community, loved sport, hobbies and planned to be a pilot. He was gentle and thoughtful. We discovered he had not wanted to worry us with his problems, while I was treated for cancer. Science tells us teens have less brain capacity for problem solving and are impulsive.
Betty Connelly and I have funded a not-for-profit incorporated group, Billy’s Gift, and have received donations and support.
We have connected with families across Australia: a mum from a remote town in WA, who met the Prime Minister after losing her son, and a dad from Orange who has lost two adolescents, and has met the health minister. Never underestimate the passionate sadness of families to speak up for the voiceless.
Betty, the only qualified Aboriginal counsellor in the shire (her father’s country), feels the loss of so many kin. Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people aged between 15- 24 years of age are five times as likely to suicide as their non-Aboriginal peers.
Many would attend suicide first-aid training if it were available. We know of too many suicides in the shire this year. As Betty says: “Community problems need community solutions, and there is no time to wait for funding. There is much we can do now.”
There are gaps in services and too many people do not seek help. We have developed a community program, Out of the Shadows.
Suicide first-aid training takes a couple of hours. It is for everyone. Just as we all should learn CPR for the heart, we should know first-aid for the broken hearted.
As Betty says: “The community knows who is not travelling well.” They are trusted. We are tapping into this. Help lines are a valuable resource, but some need a face-to-face meeting and support to reach out to a service.
We are training “messengers of hope” to build on their own lived experience and wisdom. We need sponsors to give them resources. If you can help, phone Betty on 0437 728 480 or Julie on 0437 729 703.
If you are having a hard time and need help right now, phone Lifeline 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service 1300 65 94 67.
Julie Irwin, for Billy’s Gift