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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.

Naomi plans the trip of a lifetime!

Successful Lincoln counsellor Naomi Watkins is over the moon after scooping a highly prestigious research award!

Naomi, who is Chief Executive of the phenomenally busy NWCH (Naomi Watkins Counselling Hub) is thrilled to be among 150 privileged people across the UK honoured to receive a Churchill Fellowship.

And she is going to use her grant, from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, to visit Australia and New Zealand to carry out a six-weeks research project into suicide prevention.

Churchill Fellowships offer UK citizens a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel the world and research cutting-edge global solutions to important topical issues and explore innovative ideas and best practice in a practical subject of their choice.  The average grant is £6,000.

The Fellowships address contemporary issues, develop knowledge leaders and offer transformative opportunities to outstanding individuals.

“I am excited to be one of just 150 people to receive one of this year’s Fellowships. They attract a lot of competition.  I was one of 1,800 applicants, out of which just 250 people were interviewed before the final 150 were chosen,” said Naomi.

“I am planning to travel in May and my grant will cover my flights, accommodation and other essentials.

“I am keen to use my trip to carry out important research into suicide prevention, specifically for children and younger adults in the four-to-30 years old age group.  At NWCH we counsel people of all ages, but would like to run special projects designed to help troubled children in this category. I shall be researching ways of spotting signs of a person’s ideation or intention of ending their life by suicide.

“Many people think suicide mainly affects older adults, but there has been a rise in the number of younger people driven to end their own lives by suicide for various reasons. Suicide is the leading cause of death for 5-19yrs old (England ONS, 2018).

“This is a tragedy and, as counsellors, we are determined to do all we can to prevent this from happening,” said Naomi.

“I am looking forward to sharing my research findings with my colleagues at NWCH, where we have a team of 19 counsellors, six support staff and two therapy dogs.”

Naomi added that NWCH, which recorded 803 referrals for help since it started out in 2017 – and currently 500 appointments on its books every week – believes her research findings will also help to inform the Community Interest Company’s Suicide Prevention Conference, which is taking place at The Showroom in Lincoln on September 10 – World Suicide Day.