*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.”
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