I start my blog tonight by sharing with you the most sacred moment of this study tour so far. This evening, at the conclusion of workshops, a service was conducted by the bereavement society in Norway. A small group of around 30 delegates from the conference gathered together in a circle in front of the altar at the beautiful Oslo Cathedral. We ceremony involved hauntingly beautiful hymns, sung in Norwegian by a local member of the parish. Each delegate present was provided with a candle and then invited to step forward and light their candle in honour of the memory of someone significant to them. This was incredibly moving – uncles, friends, grandmothers, cousins, children – all named, honoured and remembered by various members of our group – each with their individual tale of grief and tragedy.
At a conference like this, the word ‘suicide’ gets mentioned so often that the significance of it unavoidably seems to become redundant or diminished somehow. However, an experience such as this one crashes down the true tragedy of suicide, and those bereaved by suicide, with brutal force. I was truly moved by the honour with each person was remembered on what was truly sacred ground. An experience I will never forget. I chose to honour Anika Wignall. Anika was an exceptionally talented HSC student from a loving family and strong future prospects. Sadly, Anika suffered from depression and made the choice to end her life back on 17th May 2004. The Anika Foundation was set up in her honour to support research into adolescent depression. One key initiative that the Anika Foundation supports financially is the NSW Premier Teacher’s Scholarship that I was blessed to receive. I am certainly grateful to the Foundation and hope that my research will honour Anika’s memory. Anyone who would like to know more about Anika or the Foundation can do so by clicking here.
I attended an excellent session today called ‘Strategic Planning for Suicide Safer Communities Around the World’. This was a panel discussion session with representatives from Korea, Norway, the United States and Australia. Each panel member discussed the methods they have used to implement strategies and initiatives within their communities. This was exceptionally useful and several initatives involving training for gatekeepers were discussed in detail. After the workshop I talked at length with each of the panel members, particularly Lindy MacGregor from The National Centre for Suicide Prevention and Training. Lindy has been involved in organising and facilitating gatekeeper training using the ASIST program in many countries for many years. We are going to stay in touch to network methods regarding how gatekeeper training could be more widely implemented with teachers in schools.
I also arranged to meet during lunch today with Ms Rezvan Ghoncheh from the University of Amsterdam. She has been working with her team from the Faculty of Psychology and Education on a set of online training modules for gatekeepers to educate them about all aspects of suicide awareness when working with teenagers – this resource looks absolutely amazing. It has been developed over the past 18 months based on solid research and a strong pilot program. Unfortunately, the resource is in Dutch as they wanted to make it as accessible as possible for their stakeholders in the Netherlands. We are going to keep in contact as I’m very keen to explore the possibility of creating a similar resource that could be used in schools in NSW.
This conference has certainly been an amazing learning opportunity. I’ve had the privilege of learning about the most current global concerns regarding suicide. Please allow me to summarise some of the key messages from this conference:
- Suicide is a global health concern and has been recognised by the World Health Organisation as being as global issue that needs to be addressed
- Suicide is a problem that is contextually unique and affects both poor and developing nations as well as first world nations. No country is immune to suicide and nations need to learn from each other to best support their own citizens in their own unique social contexts.
- There are many causal effects for suicide and much research is still being conducted into the reasons that people choose suicide. The volume of research is very heartening, with many studies showing evidence in the ability of certain interventions to reduce the risk of suicide in particular societal groups.
- Mental health is seen to be a key factor in many suicides, but more and more evidence is showing that mental health is not the ‘cause’ of the suicide itself – there are usually a number of contributing factors at play.
- The correlation between alcohol consumption and suicidal ideation is very strong – this is of great concern in countries with a culture of excessive consumption, such as Australia.
- Youth suicide continues to be a major concern and rates of youth suicide are predicted to rise over the coming decade.
- Although the focus of many of the sessions in this conference were directed at ‘intervention’, most experts agree that equal attention must be given to ‘prevention’ and ‘postvention’, not just the ‘intervention’ stage
- Numerous studies are being conducted from all over the world on various aspects of suicidal behaviour. The conference featured a number of sessions outlining current research that is being undertaken as well as resources that have been developed following detailed investigation. Many of these resources have been included on my blog here
- Suicide is preventable. There have been many initiatives from all over the world which are evolving as the world evolves – from online crisis counselling in Australia to lock boxes for pesticides in rural communities in China – the world is responding in a variety of different ways to the dynamic concern of suicide
- A collaborative partnership of care is what is needed to most successfully care for people experiencing suicidal ideation – this means that mental health professionals need to work with families, other care providers, gatekeepers and medical practitioners in tandem so that the best possible outcomes can be reached for the individual involved.
- Much can be learned from studying suicidal clusters in certain areas, as well as the contagion effect for the prevention of suicide in the future
- Postvention is having more of an emphasis as further studies are being conducted into how best to care for those who attempt suicide unsuccessfully and also those who have been bereaved by suicide.
Tomorrow afternoon I leave Oslo behind a reconnect with my parents at London. From all accounts they’ve been having a wonderful time exploring their heritage. Malta is the birthplace of my father and all of my grandparents. I know this trip would have been extra special for mum who had never been to see the places where her parents were born and grew up. So, needless to say, I’m looking forward to hearing all about their adventures when I see them tomorrow. The next step on my study tour is the International Youth Mental Health Conference in Brighton. Olso has been so wonderful to me, and I’ll be sad to say goodbye to this enchanting place and the great people I’ve met – but I am looking forward to the next stop of this adventure train, toot toot!
Stay tuned for more findings.