A federal and state MP have jointly called for politicians to undertake suicide prevention training, following a pioneering workshop for political leaders in Sydney.
Suicide prevention and crisis support charity Lifeline held a session of its safeTALK Training specifically for politicians at Gordon, in Sydney's north, on Monday. In attendance were Julian Leeser and Trent Zimmerman, federal MPs for Berowra and North Sydney, as well as a number of NSW state MPs and local area mayors.
The gathered politicians took part in a three-hour session on recognising the risk factors and signs of suicide, as well as how to talk to or support those contemplating suicide, and how to refer them to specialist services.
"Most persons thinking of suicide want help to stay alive," Lifeline says.
"People thinking of suicide find ways to invite help from others. Invitations are often missed, dismissed or avoided. Everyone can learn how to help."
In a free-flowing session, politicians heard from Lifeline experts on how to recognise suicide dangers such as sudden changes in a person's behaviour or life disruptions like relationship breakdown and financial or employment trouble. Role-playing sessions got the politicians to practise asking for and offering help.
During a frank discussion, when asked if anyone in the room had been touched by suicide, only two hands stayed down. One mayor even admitted to having contemplated suicide in the past. Another attendee, a staffer of one of the politicians present, revealed how he had recently fielded a call from a constituent who was contemplating suicide and asking for help.
The Lifeline experts encouraged attendees to develop a "willingness to be nosy", to overcome nerves or feelings of anxiety over asking if someone was thinking about suicide, and to reach out even if the advances are not invited or wanted.
In his maiden speech last year, Leeser made one of the most powerful, moving and emotive speeches heard on the floor of parliament in some time, speaking about his father's suicide and the larger issue of suicide and mental health in Australia. On Monday, he spoke about the importance of such workshops.
"When my father took his own life, I reflected on the weeks leading up to him dying and I realised there were a bunch of signs he was giving us that we didn't see and act upon. I don't want another family to go through that," he told HuffPost Australia.
"I wanted to get my state and federal colleagues to hear from Lifeline as to what to do, what are the signs if you think someone is contemplating suicide? You start with leadership of the community, and we hopefully will be able to encourage other organisations like schools, rotary groups, fire brigades, and RSLs to do this. The more people who've done a course like this, that can recognise the signs, the better chance we have of preventing people from taking their own life."
"I think people right across the community should do this. MPs, staff, journalists, everyone across the community."
NSW state MP Alister Henskens also voiced support for the idea.
"Today was very valuable. I hadn't appreciated how prevalent it was, not only actual suicides but attempted suicides and people with suicidal thoughts. It's a massive issue in the community, something the community is probably not widely aware of, and we need to raise that awareness," he told HuffPost Australia.
"As MPs, we can go into our areas and promote suicide awareness and where people can go for help."
Wendy Carver, CEO of Lifeline's Harbour to Hawkesbury region, said it would be "magnificent" if the training could be rolled out to all MPs and politicians.
"Hopefully they'll use their new knowledge and leadership roles to get other people to become suicide alert and aware. I believe everybody in our country should do this sort of training, it's one step we can take to help save lives," she told HuffPost Australia.
"Sometimes you have to start at the top. It's hard to get people in the community to do this training and start talking about suicide, because it's a scary topic and people are uncomfortable with it. If the leaders and MPs take it seriously and start talking about it, motivating people to do the training, they might be instrumental in helping this training to happen."
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