Academic journal article Advances in Mental Health

Living beyond Aboriginal Suicide: Developing a Culturally Appropriate and Accessible Suicide Postvention Service for Aboriginal Communities in South Australia

Academic journal article Advances in Mental Health

Living beyond Aboriginal Suicide: Developing a Culturally Appropriate and Accessible Suicide Postvention Service for Aboriginal Communities in South Australia

Article excerpt

uicide reduction and mitigation requires a commitment to intervention at all levels of the mental health system, and postvention services targetted directly at containing suicide contagion are a critical component of the mix of interventions required in order to address the prevalence and effects of this significant and confronting issue. This study has a South Australian focus, working within the framework of a jurisdiction where approximately 200 lives are taken by suicide every year (Australian Bureau of Statistics [ABS], 2008). For each of these deaths, at least six other people are severely affected by grief (Wilson & Clark, 2005). This constitutes in excess of a 1,000 people who suffer major grief from losing someone close through suicide every year in South Australia alone, and a significant population at risk of associated negative outcomes. In this context, it is unsurprising that in a recent media release the Gillard government called suicide a national tragedy that has devastating impacts on individuals, families and communities (Gillard, 2010). This study focuses on an intervention in South Australia which is tasked with mitigating those impacts, and seeks to investigate how that programme could expand its utility to better address the disproportionate prevalence of Aboriginal suicide. Through engaging with that service specific question, the study explores the potential utility of thinking about social service provision through a lens of cultural integrity and through a process of 'walking together'.

Anglicare SA's Living Beyond Suicide program (LBS) companions survivors of suicide events through post-suicide processes, and provides a vital link between families and the community. The support given is practical and based on a family's needs. LBS seeks to assist bereaved parties through the negative effects on wellbeing and associated morbidities produced by grief related to suicide. LBS seeks to contain suicide contagion (Clark, 2001; Laux, 2002) and to assist the recovery of traumatised and affected families and communities.

LBS is a postvention service which partners with crisis services such as the police and ambulance services who attend suicides in South Australia and who provide families with an immediate link to LBS. The service coordinates home visits by trained volunteers who are themselves experienced in suicide bereavement, with visits from the service occurring in the hours and days after the suicide. The support given by LBS may include providing information on funeral options; liaising with coroners, courts and police departments; advocating on behalf of the family for superannuation, insurance or Centrelink matters; facilitating debriefing sessions for workplaces; assisting families with household concerns; providing information on available counselling services; or simply sitting with the family as they tell their story.

LBS aligns with the Commonwealth Government's LIFE framework for the prevention of suicide and self harm in Australia (National Advisory Council on Youth Suicide Prevention, 2000), which has stressed the need for 'prompt and effective support for people bereaved or affected by suicide' (p. 84), or suicide postvention, and which currently notes 'interventions for people bereaved by suicide' as an important part of evidence-based practice (National Advisory Council on Youth Suicide Prevention, 2008, p. 42). The programme aligns with a logic which traces back to Shneidman, who coined the term 'postvention', and who suggests that, 'the largest public health problem is neither the prevention of suicide nor the management of suicide attempts, but the alleviation of the effects of stress in the survivors whose lives are forever altered' (Shneidman, 1972, p. xii).

In the South Australian Suicide Postvention Project Report to Mental Health Services, Wilson and Clark note that suicide postvention has 'recently been recognised as an important part of suicide prevention because those bereaved through suicide are a high risk group for mental ill health and suicide' (Wilson & Clark, 2005, p. …

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