My last week in Sydney!

*Emotional trigger warning – content involves suicide*

29th May 2019

My last week in Sydney flew by! I met with five organisations (one via Skype) and attended an event In Parliament, no less! Here’s a summary of my week.

I started with a visit to a mental health organisation, the Blackdog Institute (BI), where I gave a presentation to the team about myself, NWCounselling Hub (NWCH), The Winston Churchill Fellowship and my research findings so far about suicide prevention initiatives in Australia. This led to a host of insightful questions from the entire BI team. Thereafter, I interviewed Fiona Shand, senior research fellow at the Blackdog Institute. She is also Director of the Lifespan Suicide Prevention Project, a large, multi-level suicide prevention model. The BI frames itself as a translational Medical Research Institute, i.e., they are first and foremost about research, particularly the translational end of the spectrum, but they also provide clinical services, education and community activities.

I found Fiona’s description of the Lifespan model very interesting. She explained that the team researched existing evidence-based interventions in suicide prevention before developing a framework that includes universal intervention. In other words, the model considers things that affect the whole population, through to selective and indicated intervention for the more at risk end of the spectrum – delivered via community health initiatives, education, and front line media. This makes it a multi-sector, multi strategy model of suicide prevention. In total, the model identified nine interventions to be trialled. The current trial is in four regions, with two years implementation per region; the aim is to get all nine interventions implemented to some degree. The model will then use colonial and hospital data to try to identify changes in suicide attempts across each of the four regions. I am really looking forward to hearing about the outcomes of this huge research project.

Next, I visited ReachOut Australia, where I was welcomed by Dr Kerrie Buhagiar, Director of Service Delivery, and Mariesa Nicholas, Director of Research. ReachOut’s mission is to help young people be happy and well, using technology to empower young people to make the most of their mental health and well-being. I found this organisation so inspiring, particularly their views on empowering young people to make their own decisions around their life and mental health. Understandably, young people love ReachOut Australia because they are an integral part of it! They work tirelessly to incorporate young people’s views and feedback directly into their work. I was particularly interested in their programme to support parents, which incorporates a one-to-one coaching programme. They have found parents care and worry about their teenagers, but don’t know how best to support them. Ultimately, the parents programme benefits both parents and young people tremendously. This is something I definitely want NWCH to look into more when I return to the UK.

(L-R) Mariesa Nicholas – Director of Research, Naomi Watkins – CEO NWCH and Dr Kerrie Buhagiar – Director of Service Delivery,

I then visited another Headspeace centre – this time in Hurstville, where I met the Operations Manager for Miranda and Hurstville. This is the third Headspace centre I have visited and although they are all so different, they all provide a range of services to support young people within one building. Headspace has grown tremendously since its incorporation in 2007, with over 100 sites across six Australian states and three territories. The Headspace centres operate slightly differently dependent upon which organisation funds them, but all provide tremendous holistic support for young people.

On Thursday, I Skyped Michelle Lamblin, Project Manager of the Suicide Prevention Research Unit at Orygen, Melbourne. Orygen, is a National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health and the world’s leading research and knowledge translation organisation, focusing on mental ill-health in young people. Orygen delivers cutting-edge research, policy development, innovative clinical services, and evidence-based training and education to ensure continuous improvements in the treatment and care for young people experiencing mental ill-health. Michelle and I really hit it off and put the world to rights on our Skype call! I couldn’t believe their growth in such a short time; from three members of staff to 50 in the last three years, thanks to investment from funding bodies and government funding. Like ReachOut Australia, Orygen also involved young people in the design of their new building; again a great example of youth participation. I was also impressed that their suicide prevention model is a community-based approach, where everyone is accountable. Training is provided in communities, and schools have programmes to support young people. This is excellent forward thinking and cutting-edge research from Orygen!

The last organisation I met with was Batyr, where I presented in person to the team and via Zoom (similar to Skype) to other members around Australia. I gave the same presentation as I had to the Blackdog Institute and again, it sparked great questions and debate. What struck me was the relaxed, young, hip vibe in Batyr’s office, where everyone was so warm and welcoming; I joked that it was like a Google office! Its so obvious to me why young people want to be involved with Batyr. After my presentation, I met with Sarah Scales, Speaker Development Co-Ordinator and Nicholas Brown, General Manager; both were very accommodating and inspiring people.

(L-R) Nicholas Brown – General Manager, Naomi Watkins – CEO NWCH and Sarah Scales – Speaker Development Co-Ordinator

I really loved Batyr’s focus on giving a voice to young people with lived experience. The speaker programme allows young people to go into schools and share their experience of suicide and mental health. What a fabulous and invaluable initiative. We know that the first person a young person will turn to when in crisis is another young person. Hence, it’s so much more powerful for young people in schools to hear the lived experience of another young person; what did and did not help them when in crisis or struggling. All young speakers are aged 18 years and older. They attend workshops, training, and one-to-one sessions with Sarah before going to speak in schools, accompanied by a Batyr staff member for support.

On Friday evening, I attended an event called, ‘Children of Harvey Milk: How LGBTQ Politicians Changed the World Community Forum’, an event organised in conjunction with Twenty10, who I mentioned in a previous blog.

The Children of Harvey Milk is an exciting new book by Andrew Reynolds that traces the history of global breakthroughs for the LGBTQ communities over the past two decades, featuring interviews with high profile LGBTQ political candidates and activists from around the world. The launch featured a free political forum with local and international LGBTQ politicians and activists, hosted by Julie McCrossin. Speakers included Alex Greenwich MP, Penny Sharpe MLC, Senator Janet Rice, Senator Louise Pratt and Trent Zimmerman MP, along with international guests Louisa Wall MP (NZ), Peter Tatchell (global LGBTQ activist), Sarah McBride (leading trans political voice in the US). What an amazing line up of incredible people making a difference for the LGBT+ community around the world. I found the panel discussion incredibly interesting, including the fact that sadly, the LGBT+ community have a higher rate of suicide than the heterosexual population. I think organisations like Twenty10 are doing fabulous work to help with this, but so much more is needed nationwide and globally.

The struggle continues to break down stigmas around community groups and mental health in general, and NWCH aims to be at the forefront of this struggle.

Signing off now, since I have just arrived in New Zealand where it’s eleven hours ahead of the UK (as opposed to nine in Sydney). Looking forward to learning more this week and sharing it with you all.

My first week in Sydney!

*Emotional trigger warning – content involves suicide*

19th May 2019

My research as a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust fellow here in Australia continues to inspire me! I have visited 4 organisations in the past week in Sydney, all doing fantastic work for suicide prevention and support across Australia. I’m hearing about so many initiatives and good-practice that we could apply in the UK, funds permitted.

Earlier this week, I spent the day with Lifeline Australia at their office in central Sydney. They are a helpline that has operated for nearly 60 years, with the tagline, ‘Australia free of Suicide’. Since they have offices across Australia, my meetings with 5 staff members were held in person and via Skype. I learned that more people contact Lifeline than any other helpline, with over one million people per year calling for a phone chat, and some for an online chat. They already offer SMS services, but are currently looking into increasing their digital offering with more online chat and email services. Rachel Bowes, Acting Executive Director for Operations, hosted me for the day and introduced me to the rest of the very friendly team, who are all passionate about making a difference to suicide prevention in Australia. One area I was really impressed with was their research into Artificial Intelligence (AI) to help reach out to people online who express suicidal ideation or intention. I am looking forward to seeing that research and what they put in place to connect with help-seekers. Read more about them here.

(L-R) Richard Brimble – National Manager, Naomi Watkins – CEO NWCH, Rachel Bowes – Acting Executive Director for Operations

Later in the week, I visited Australian’s foremost suicide prevention organisation, aptly named, Suicide Prevention Australia (SPA). I was welcomed by Alan Woodward, a SPA advisor for all thing’s mental health and suicide prevention. NWCH have just become a member of SPA and I will attend their 4-day Suicide Prevention conference in Melbourne in July 2019, where they have invited me to showcase a poster presentation of my research findings. More than 100 organisations of are SPA members, comprised of organisations of all sizes, plus individual and associate members. SPA has 10 office-based staff in Sydney, yet despite being a small NGO (non-government organisation), it represents members across Australia and supports them in their work. See their work here.

(L-R) Naomi Watkins – NWCH, Alan Woodward – SPA

I also visited another Headspace centre in Camperdown where Dr Blake Hamilton, the Clinical Services Manager, hosted me. This centre is closely linked to The University of Sydney through the brain and mind research centre. This centre in Camperdown sees around 1200-1500 young people between the ages of 12 to 25 years, for about 5000 occasions of service. This centre’s headspace early intervention team, funded by the Primary Health Network (PHN), supports more complex cases and provides an early intervention in psychosis service. Other organisations also work out of this centre, including Relationships Australia who running a family therapy clinic one day a week, and Wesley Mission that provides support for young people who are either homeless or at risk of being homeless. They also have University researchers in this office and employment services specifically aimed at young people. In total, more than 45 people work out of this centre providing excellent holistic support and care to young people. Inspiring! You can read more here.

At the end of the week, I was invited to Twenty10’s LGBTQIA+ event ‘Well Played’. Twenty10 is a New South Wales based not-for-profit organisation that supports LGBTIQA+ young people. Their new campaign ‘Well Played’ highlights the importance of diversity and inclusion in sport and physical activity and the positive impact it has on young people’s health and wellbeing. The campaign was launched on the night by Kate Jenkins – Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Australian Human Rights Commission, and it comprised of a film screening and a live panel discussion. It was both incredibly moving and exciting to see such forward thinking here in Australia. Watch the film here (please share this far and wide) and read more about the organisation here.

Kate Jenkins – Sex Discrimination Commissioner – Australian Human Rights Commission

I have a jam-packed week ahead for my last week in Sydney, seeing another 5 organisations and I’m invited to another event in Parliament House! Watch this space for more updates!

The last two meetings in Brisbane

*Emotional trigger warning – content involves suicide*

12th May 2019

What a busy few days I have had here in Australia!

I’ve moved from Brisbane to Sydney to continue my research into Suicide Prevention, as a privileged fellow of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust. The findings and learning to date have been fascinating, with so much we can translate into work in this field in the UK.

On 8th May, I had the fabulous opportunity to meet with two more wonderful organisations that are doing amazing things for suicide prevention and postvention.

The first was Standby, a postvention service offering support after suicide, helping those who’ve been impacted by suicide in any way, regardless of whether the suicide occurred today or at any time in the past. I met Monique Broadbent, Co-Ordinator for Brisbane, and Kelly Playford-Veel, Brisbane South Team Leader, both from the Nundah branch.

This is what Monique had to say about Standby,

“When people have been impacted, that may be because they were family or friends with the person who died. Or, it could just be that they heard about a suicide and felt impacted for their own reasons. Or, they could have witnessed a stranger’s suicide, or found a body. They might also be first responders, so police, ambulance, whoever. Standby goes out to whoever needs support, working with community members and professionals alike.

 We provide short-term support, so we might go out to see large or small groups, for example, in a school,  football club or workplace. Then, following this initial short-term support, we can refer people to ongoing support.

 Unfortunately, Standby are unable to offer long-term, ongoing support. What we offer may look like bereavement and grief support, or it may be more trauma focus, depending on the circumstances and the person’s relationship to the deceased. But Standby’s big focus is on holistic care, linking people with ongoing services, precisely because we only provide short-term support but also because suicide is so very complex. It’s never just grief that people are going through.”

(L-R) Kelly Playford-Veel – Brisbane South Team Leader, Naomi Watkins – CEO NWCH, Monique Broadbent – Co-Ordinator for Brisbane

Standby is doing some amazing work in local communities, truly supporting anyone impacted by suicide, from crisis intervention point and beyond. It’s a postvention service, but that in itself makes it prevention too. As we know, people are at greater risk of suicide if they have lost someone to suicide. Acknowledging this fact, Standby does amazing work with children who have lost parents, siblings and peers to suicide too.

My second meeting today was with YourTown where I met John Dalgleish, Head of Strategy & Research, and Laura Clarke, Advocacy and Policy Lead. I was also fortunate to meet CEO, Tracy Adams, along with counsellors, supervisors and YourTown volunteers.

YourTown helps to create brighter futures for young people and families. It is a values based, national, Not for Profit organisation. They believe every young person has the right to a brighter future and aim to be part of the solution by delivering services that get results. Their services include Kids Helpline, training and employment for young people, parent education, and specialist accommodation for families. They are one of the largest not-for-profit service providers for young people in Australia with sites across Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and Tasmania. I met with the Milton branch.

My time with YourTown began with me doing a 40 minute presentation on Domestic Abuse in the UK, which I delivered as a ‘lunchbox session’ – in other words during their lunch break. Over 30 people attended and I was live streamed to their other bases across Australia! There were so many questions and people queued to talk with me afterwards, which was really heart-warming. Domestic Abuse prevention is another of my passions, so it was great to be so well received by an enthusiastic audience.

I then met with the Head of Service for KidsLine. KidsLine was inspired by ChildLine UK, where I used to work for 8 years! They also run ParentLine. It was so interesting for me to hear that they are doing a fantastic job, answering calls to young people and parents 7 days a week!

Lastly, I held a focus group with 12 members of staff to discuss suicide prevention, domestic abuse, support services and so much more.

(L-R) Volunteer counsellor, Laura Clarke – Advocacy and Policy Lead, John Dalgleish – Head of Strategy & Research, Naomi Watkins – CEO NWCH, Volunteer Counsellor, Supervisors of KidLine & ParentLine

I was absolutely shattered when I arrived back at my apartment! Reflecting on the day, I felt in awe of the work these two organisations are doing and I’m inspired and committed to make big changes in Lincolnshire, and beyond, on my return!

The next day, I flew from Brisbane to Sydney and have been settling-in and sight-seeing before the next three weeks of meetings, starting on Monday 13th May. This experience is truly uplifting, an opportunity of a lifetime, and I feel so grateful to the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust for selecting me to be a Churchill Fellow.

Meeting in Nundah and Glass Mountains!

*Emotional trigger warning – content involves suicide*

7th May 2019

What an amazing day I have had today! I met with a fantastic organisation called Headspace, at their Nundah branch. I was fortunate to spend time with the community engagement co-ordinator and the clinical services manager.

(L-R) Clinical Services Manager, Naomi Watkins CEO NWCH & Community Engagement Co-Ordinator

What struck me about this service was the wrap-around care they provide. Young people aged 12 to 25 years can self-refer and get access to mental health services, a GP, a dietitian, work and study support, alcohol and drug services – all under one roof. And what a roof that was! An old bank that they have transformed into a friendly, colourful centre, with non-gendered toilets. Yet more impressive is the fact that the young people they work with helped design the centre.

Headspace – Nundah

Fantastic message on office door

Non-gendered toilets

Headspace also have a youth reference group which helps them to design support programmes and enables consultation to ensure they provide services that young people request. Young people can stay with the service as long as they want to, some are with them from age 12 to 25! Headspace also works with schools, to deliver assemblies and train teachers in mental health support. They can have 10 therapeutic sessions every calendar year.

All of this made me reflect on how fortunate we are at NWCH Lincoln to be able to provide our funded clients with 21 sessions, yet that’s unfortunately the maximum available from our funding sources. It appears to be so much easier here in Australia to receive government funding for support services and furthermore, that counselling and therapy is highly valued.

Headspace are supporting young people with suicidal ideation and intention, and they document how their support really helps young people to find hope again. I am in awe of the set-up they have and the funded services  they are able to provide. What a fantastic model of support and one that we can but aspire to in the United Kingdom. You can read more about Headspace Nundah here:

(L-R) Conrad Townson – CYP Solutions, Naomi Watkins – NWCH CIC

This afternoon I met a man called Conrad Townson from Children & Young People Solutions. We both used to work in North Wales but in different eras, so a mutual contact put us in touch. Conrad moved out here 3 years ago and is helping Australian authorities to better understand CSE – child sexual exploitation, and identify it at the earliest possible stage. He trains organisations to spot the signs and symptoms of CSE and has established an innovative CSE panel. We know young people who experience CSE are more at risk of suicidal ideation and/or intention, so being able to spot the signs and symptoms earlier reduces this risk and the risk of CSE. What a remarkable man with a clear passion to make a difference in the world of CSE. Great work Conrad! You can read more about his business here:

Greetings from Brisbane!

*Emotional trigger warning – content involves suicide and lived experience stories*

3rd May 2019

I have finally arrived in Brisbane!

What an epic journey and my first experience of jet lag – it is really hard. Advice for those travelling long haul, allow at least 3 days before you have any meetings! Mmmm. I got that bit wrong. I’ve hit the ground running, but after a busy first day I managed to do a little sight-seeing in Brisbane before returning to my hotel to get more sleep!

So, on this my first day of a 6 week trip to Australia and New Zealand to research suicide prevention – sponsored by the wonderful Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, I met with Bronwen Edwards – CEO of Roses in the Ocean – a suicide prevention organisation.

Bronwen’s story is truly amazing and very moving. Her brother died by suicide in 2008. She shared her story with me:

“He had never had a mental illness in his life and was very high achieving. He was a fighter pilot in the Australian Air Force, and then went on to an international flight career. And literally just a few things in life happened to him, such as a broken down relationship and two of our grandma’s died. He just needed a break. There was a lot of stress going on at work. But then he was provided with an antidepressant, which meant he couldn’t fly. So he felt this embarrassment, loss of identity, loss of purpose. This is back in 1998/99, when the word suicide wasn’t even spoken about. We knew nothing about how to support him, we had very little clue, we didn’t pick up on the signs which, with what I know now, I would’ve seen them. In fact, if it happened now, I reckon he’d still be with us, because of what we know. He was then channelled to a psychiatrist who plied him with prescription meds which literally sent my brother on a spiral. He then became suicidal, he wasn’t suicidal at the beginning. That particular doctor has lost 11 patients to suicide, it’s been in front of the medical tribunal here in Australia and he got ‘slapped on the wrist’. So losing Mark was, is, the sole reason that I do what I do.”

“I never even thought about suicide until we lost him. I supported him for a number of years, as he got bad, I was the one who was trying to keep him alive. Three years later, Mark ended his life by suicide. It just highlighted the fact that a family that was united, well resourced, intelligent, could not save him. And it appeared to me that what was out there was completely irrelevant, that clearly things had to change. And that if we just kept doing what we’ve been doing for decades, nothing was going to change and why the hell weren’t ‘they’ listening to people who had some experience with it? Never in my wildest dreams, did I believe or even envisage what we would become. I always knew that support had to be focused around, people with lived experience, we had to change it into what people needed.”

(L-R) Bronwen Edwards – CEO of Roses in the ocean & Naomi Watkins – CEO of NWCH

Bronwen now runs Roses in the Ocean, she goes on to explain what this organisation does:

“We are a lived experience of suicide, organisation. We exist to save lives and reduce emotional pain. And we do that through our mission by empowering people with experience to inform and influence and enhance suicide prevention activity. A big purpose of what we do is creating a lived experience workforce, right around the country. We have people who are skilled and can align their skills with their lived experience, they really understand the lived experience and how to meaningfully use it appropriately and safely. And then, the other main purpose of what we do is because of all of that, the privilege of hearing all of those stories all the time, we then now are able to feed that up. We have a very high profile in terms of consulting, advisory, advocacy, for lived experience. We’ve become the leading national experience organisation. In fact, we are the only organisation that does what we do well in the country and have not yet found anyone around the world that does what we do, either.”

Bronwen’s story and what her organisation is doing is purely inspirational and something I feel strongly that the UK can learn from. We need more projects like Bronwen’s to support people with suicidal ideation and intention, but also for those who care for people who are suicidal. I am so grateful for the opportunity to interview Bronwen and look forward to seeing what she and the Roses in the Ocean team achieves in the next 7 years.

You can read more about Roses in the Ocean here