When Carrie Miller was 18-years-old she attempted to end her own life.
Feeling alone and depressed she had not even heard of the word ‘suicide’. That was 32-years ago.
“I was completely alone, I mean you already feel that alone when you are that depressed and then to have thoughts about suicide when you’ve never even heard the term and no one talks about it, it’s so frightening and isolating,” she said.
“I think it enhanced the feelings that led me to attempt to kill myself.
“Now what’s amazing is it is now seen as the community’s responsibility to talk about suicide, to talk openly about it and to make sure we have conversations with people that might be thinking about it, so it gives me great hope.”
Miller will share her lived experience of suicide when the Illawarra Shoalhaven Suicide Prevention Collaborative launches the Black Dog Institute’s LifeSpan project in Kiama on Thursday.
The launch coincides with R U OK? Day, a campaign which reminds people that having meaningful conversations with others could save lives.
“I’ll be asking people if they’re okay, including myself, I’ll enjoy doing that, but also I’m going to spend time with peers, other people who have had attempts on their life or had suicidal thoughts,” Miller said.
“I find it very heartening that I can be part of my own community of people who are either suicide survivors or people who have had suicidal thoughts, that makes me feel really hopeful that we’re still here and can get together and share our stories.
“I wear that badge proudly [suicide survivor], I think we need to reduce shame around that kind of stuff and I feel like a survivor, I’ve sort of been through a bit of battle in life and I’m very happy to be here, to live with hope is an amazing thing.”
It’s very very heartening to see people that have been in that space, in that really black hole and crawled out of it and are able to talk about it so openly.Carrie Miller
Miller has found sharing her experiences with others helpful.
“I find it Incredibly beneficial, particularly speaking to people who have had that similar experience,” she said.
“I guess it’s like any illness, cancer survivors feel that connectedness with their peers, and I think we also have our own community.
“It’s very very heartening to see people that have been in that space, in that really black hole and crawled out of it and are able to talk about it so openly.”
Miller recalled her own experience of recovery.
“I did it with great difficulty and not very gracefully,” she said.
“Partly, I guess, through hospitalisation and being diagnosed with Bipolar disorder – that was helpful to understand what was causing my suicidal thinking and behaviour.
“But in the end I guess it was what gets everyone through life, and that’s friendship. It was having friends who cared enough about me, who accepted I had mental health issues and continued to support me.
“I’ve got one in particular who has been through the wringer with me many many times, that’s amazing and that’s what life is about for everyone I think, is those kinds of connections with other people.”
Miller said she maintains her mental fitness with a range of techniques.
“I continue to see a psychologist and psychiatrist, I make sure I take my medication, I feel much more empowered to talk about the medication I’m prepared to take, so that’s helpful,” she said.
“I think the most important thing is I maintain social connection, because I think isolation is the enemy of depression, so I make sure I stay connected.
“Even if there are days when I don’t feel like leaving the house, I try and get out and have those conversations, whether it’s at the bus stop with someone or in a peer support setting, which I do as well, they’re all important, just feeling connected to community is really important.”
What is the LifeSpan project?
LifeSpan is a new evidence-based, integrated approach to suicide prevention.
It combines nine strategies that have strong evidence for suicide prevention into one community-led approach, and is expected to reduce suicide deaths by 20 per cent and suicide attempts by 30 per cent.
The launch at The Pavilion Kiama will provide a chance for the local community to find out about what’s happening in suicide prevention in the region, speak with members of the collaborative and find out how they too can get involved.
Dr Alex Hains, Regional Manager of the Collaborative, was delighted that the Illawarra Shoalhaven was selected as one of only four pilot sites in NSW for LifeSpan.
Suicide rates in the region remain higher than NSW averages, with latest data reporting more than 40 suicides in the region in 2014.
“Suicide prevention is everyone’s business, and so we want everyone in the community to understand what role they can play in reducing suicides, and to feel confident to play that role,” Dr Hains said.
Suicide prevention is everyone’s business, and so we want everyone in the community to understand what role they can play in reducing suicides, and to feel confident to play that role.Dr Alex Haines
“The collaborative is well positioned to lead this work – all members have a shared ambition of reducing the impact of suicide in the Illawarra Shoalhaven by working collaboratively using the systems approach to suicide prevention.
“We have already established five working groups, each focused on a specific area of suicide prevention including health, community and school interventions, restricting access to means, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide prevention.”
The first LifeSpan trial site, Newcastle, was launched earlier this year, with the Central Coast and Murrumbidgee the next sites to commence after the Illawarra Shoalhaven region.
Each local trial will run for an initial period of two-and-a-half years, with long-term sustainability built into every aspect of LifeSpan to provide a strong foundation for ongoing community action.
What is the collaborative?
The collaborative, which was established in 2015, consists of representatives from more than 20 local community organisations, including the Local Health District, University of Wollongong, Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute (IHMRI), Grand Pacific Health, Lifeline South Coast, COORDINARE – South Eastern NSW PHN, all four local councils, and all sectors of education.
“It was born out of frustration that a lot of us were working really hard in suicide prevention, but the rates weren’t necessarily going down as we had hoped,” Dr Hains said
“We all felt there was a need for a different approach, something where all of our efforts would be complimenting each other to get a combined impact, and those conversations were echoed nationally as well.
“So the collaborative was in a really good position to be chosen as one of four pilot sites to implement the LifeSpan project in NSW.”
Dr Hains said the collaborative had been working with the Black Dog Institute for 12-months leading up to the launch.
“We have been working with them in order to determine how the nine strategies of LifeSpan could be best implemented in our region, so they’re appropriate and effective, while still holding onto the thing that makes them evidence based strategies,” he said.
“The Black Dog Institute trawled through international literature to work out what it was we knew had an impact on deaths and attempts and that formed the framework for LifeSpan.
“It includes anything from improving care people receive when they’re in crisis, through to preventative programs for school students and everything in between.”
Details: LifeSpan launch - Thursday, September 14 from 8.30 - 10.30am at The Pavilion Kiama.