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World Suicide Prevention Day

News Release 8 September 2008

World Suicide Prevention Day -10 SEPTEMBER 2008

Wednesday, 10 September is World Suicide Prevention Day and this year’s theme is Think Globally, Plan Nationally, Act Locally. World Suicide Prevention Day is an annual event sponsored by the International Association for Suicide Prevention and the World Health Organisation.

More people die by suicide in New Zealand annually than die on the roads. This fact, and regular requests for post-suicide support for families led Skylight to start its own support group for those bereaved by suicide, in addition to the resources it has already developed around suicide for children, teens and families. Skylight ( www.skylight.org.nz ) is a national charitable trust that supports children, young people and their families who experience change, loss, trauma and grief – whatever the cause.

Mrs Bice Awan, Skylight’s Chief Executive says: “New Zealand has one of the highest rates of suicide in the developed world. While the government has increased its funding of suicide prevention, it is not widely recognised that people being exposed to suicide is a risk factor for suicide itself. Those bereaved by suicide are seven times more likely to themselves commit suicide, as well as facing other possible negative health outcomes including substance abuse or depression.

“Our Bereavement by Suicide Support Group arose out of a community need for support and counselling, in effect postvention, for those affected by suicide. Furthermore, the programme, which is informed by international research and theory, is in line with the goals of the NZ Suicide Prevention Strategy and Action plan, which is all about acting locally.”

Skylight’s support group, thought to be the only one of its kind in New Zealand, began in 2006, in response to a community need for support and counselling following bereavement by suicide. Many of the affected people felt they needed a different kind of help than that traditionally offered by other services such as Victim Support; which was often too soon after the event, and many families couldn’t afford private counselling.

The support group is free and participants in the group attend 2 hour weekly sessions for 8 weeks. The highly trained facilitators bring together their backgrounds in research, education and counselling to lead the programme, which for 8 weeks, has the group work through a carefully planned programme that that focuses on helping them learn to explore, manage and accommodate their grief and move forward with their lives.

Caroline Cole, a counsellor at Skylight and Chris Bowden, a suicide researcher and lecturer from the School of Educational Psychology and Pedagogy at Victoria University of Wellington, co-facilitate the group.

Chris Bowden, who has spent the last few years researching and developing the programme, which is a collaboration between Skylight and Victoria University said: “Our support group is different from other peer-support groups in that we don’t just sit around discussing the different aspects of grief and bereavement. Instead we teach the group participants skills and strategies that will help them understand and manage their grief, and that of those around them.”

Skylight uses research evidence and wide consultation to ensure the group is as effective as possible. At the conclusion of the 8 week period, options for further support and care are discussed and implemented according to each individual’s needs.

Caroline Cole says: “The purpose of our group is to prevent suicide. We work to reduce the risk of further suicide and negative outcomes in adults and their families by supporting them in their journey through grief, and it seems the group has been well received, which shows that we are filling in a gap out there for people who need support and education following bereavement by suicide.”

Evaluation and research has shown that participants have benefited from the group in a number of ways including gaining a sense of connection, a reduction in isolation, having their grief and experiences normalised, finding meaning in their experiences, learning practical strategies and finding hope and new ways of moving forward in their lives. One group member said: “They just put things into perspective. They explained things and helped me make sense of it” and for another it helped her move past her focus on her grief: “Once I realised that grief never stops, that we just learn to live with it, I was able to take on board new coping skills.”

Bice Awan said “We know that with suicide there is a ripple effect, and when a person takes their own life, it impacts so many – family, friends, colleagues, in so many different ways. With around 500 New Zealanders committing suicide each year, that is a significant number of people affected by suicide. In keeping with the theme of this year’s World Suicide Prevention Day, Skylight is acting locally, in collaboration with other organisations, to support those affected by suicide in our community, which in turn is helping those who are at risk of suicide themselves.”


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