Peer to Peer Support in Suicide Intervention has been funded by Lotterywest in an Australian-first program in Western Australia.
The program is based on the Alternatives to Suicide peer support approach which has been delivered by the Western Massachusetts Recovery Learning Community, USA, since 2012. In the US it is funded by a combination of philanthropic funds and funding from the Massachusetts Mental Health Commission.
The approach has had no funding in Australia prior to the support from Lotterywest.
A TransFolk group based on this approach has been running in Perth since May 2018 and a small ethics approved evaluation of the approach and the group’s activity can be found at Evaluating-DISCHARGED-Suicide-Peer-Support. This peer support approach is comprised only of people with a lived experience, including the two facilitators who are trained specifically in this approach. There is no clinical involvement either directly or behind the scenes. Other more broad based Alternatives to Suicide groups are also running in Perth.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, the TransFolk group successfully transitioned to an online approach. This included participants joining from interstate.
Work on introducing this approach to Western Australia (and Australia) commenced in November 2015 and began to take fruition in February 2017, when the Western Massachusetts staff were brought to Perth by MercyCare to showcase the approach to stakeholders and the broader community. Over 450 people turned up to a public event to hear about the approach.
It was also deemed to be culturally safe for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people following a meeting co-ordinated by Dawn Bessarab in Perth with Elders and the US trainers in February 2017. This was to be expected as it has the Hearing Voices peer support approach as its platform. That approach had been deemed to be culturally safe in WA by 2008.
This peer to peer support (Alternatives to Suicide) approach fills a gap in the current continuum of approaches to suicide intervention in Australia.
This Lotterywest funded project has the recognition of the Mental Health Commission of WA in relation to the contribution it can to make on peer support in suicide intervention.
Lotterywest has allocated $270,000 to the 18 month project. The activities will include:
On line Train the Trainer training of eight facilitators – four in Western Australia and two each from Sydney and Brisbane – who have at least two years direct experience of running these groups or the equivalent as peer supporters in suicide intervention and whose experience has been recognised by the Western Massachusetts Recovery Learning Community. They will be trained during January and February 2021. They will then be able to train local facilitators in running these groups.
Training of local facilitators with lived experience in WA will take place from approximately May 2021 chosen from a pool that has undergone a rigorous selection process.
Additional broad based groups to the five currently provided in WA will be established during the project period. It is anticipated these groups will be supported by several agencies.
Community education sessions will be run both in the community and at targeted agency providers of social and community services including specific providers of suicide intervention services.
An evaluation approach has been developed to build on the evidence provided by the small evaluation of the DISCHARGED group referred to above which has provided support to TransFolk persons since May 2018 in Perth.
A Forum will be held in Perth during the project to share learnings and reflections.
Support will be provided to formally incorporate DISCHARGED, which is the structure under which most facilitators will sit throughout the project and beyond in Western Australia. ConnectGroups is currently providing support and supervision for them and this will continue throughout the project.
The Project is led by ConnectGroups https://connectgroups.org.au/ on behalf of the Steering Committee. The Steering Committee is comprised of:
- ConnectGroups (Funded by Lotterywest to lead the project)
- Consumers of Mental Health WA (CoMHWA)
- Lyn Millett (formerly from MercyCare)
- Joe Calleja (Recovery Matters)
- DISCHARGED Group Facilitators and colleagues
- and the support of Social Work Staff from the Curtin University School of Occupational Therapy, Social Work and Speech Pathology.
There is considerable interstate interest in this approach as evidenced by the following activities:
- Provision of funding to Inside out and Associates in NSW by the Suicide Prevention section of the NSW Department of Health to establish groups throughout NSW when there are Facilitators training in this approach in NSW.
- The South Australian Mental Health Commission is very interested in funding LELAN to support the growth of these groups in South Australia and to assist with the training of facilitators. WA facilitators who have completed the Train the Trainer course are likely to train facilitators in South Australia.
- Through Brook Red in Brisbane there is potential for this approach to spread rapidly in Brisbane, as there is already support to Brook Red from a PHN for innovation in responding to suicide.
There is growing interest in the broader community on new ways to support people who are in suicidal distress. In Western Australia, City Rotary and the Order of St John Hospitalier have both stated their support for this approach to be encouraged as a contribution to the current rage of responses.
I hope this approach can be included in the advice provided to the Prime Minister as it has the potential to contribute to the change we all want to see happen.
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