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Traumatic suicide encounter sparks advocacy for mental health support

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Last updated: 14/06/2023

Peter's harrowing experience prompts quest to change government funding focus

In a quiet park in Nanango, Peter’s peaceful morning took a sudden and harrowing turn.

What seemed like a harmless scene of someone setting up a flying fox quickly turned into a traumatic suicide attempt.

Ditching his morning coffee, Peter intervened and successfully saved the man's life, an act that would have a profound impact on both of them.

“He was a young fellow, and his body was just swinging there,” Peter said, reflecting on the incident earlier this year.

“I ran over and took his weight and got the rope off from around his neck.

“Initially, when I got him down, he was just screaming … I thought he was going to take a swing at me.”

The incident deeply affected Peter, who later realised it had triggered his own trauma. Motivated by this experience, he embarked on a mission to explore available mental health support options.

But what he found was a frustrating reality of lengthy waitlists and a shortage of available clinical staff. That was until he walked through the door at IMPACT Community Services’ Kingaroy office where he met Kaelene and Luke, mental health peer support workers.

Luke and Kaelene’s personal lived experience with mental health struggles enables him to provide a unique approach that is grounded in empathy, relatability and understanding.  For Peter, the connection happened quickly.

“Dealing with a psychologist and someone with lived experience is like chalk and cheese. In Kaelene and Luke I have found people I can talk to,” Peter said.

“You can open up and discuss things in a way knowing that they’re also someone who life has sunk its teeth into.

“They showed me what I'd call ‘community through acceptance and inclusion’.”

Peter says his experience has “lit a fire inside”. He is pushing for major change in how those with mental health challenges, particularly men, are supported.

He has shared his ordeal to demonstrate the current problems.

IMPACT Community Services is currently lobbying for increased government funding for peer support workers so people can access support during the small window of opportunity when they reach out for help.

IMPACT’s Managing Director Tanya O’Shea, herself a qualified psychologist, said a cultural shift needed to happen within the mental health ecosystem that recognised the vital role non-clinical staff provided.

Peter said the man he saved, who was aged in his 20s, was put off seeking support from a psychologist due to the cost. He had also endured several frustrating attempts at finding help in other spaces.

“He spoke to one person, a counsellor, who preached religion to him. He also told me he’d considered calling a helpline but didn’t want to speak to a faceless person on the other end. He’d also tried going to a community group because he wanted to speak with a male, but they didn’t have the experience to help,” Peter said.

The man was suffering due to the loss of access to his children. He has since left the area and is safely with family.

Peter said after getting the man down he had attempted to call the authorities for help. However, this had aggravated the situation, so in the end he convinced the man to go with him for a drive to get coffee. They drove and talked for more than two hours before he agreed to go to hospital.

Luke said it was crucial to invest in mental health services to ensure that no one fell through the cracks and that everyone had access to the support they needed during their most vulnerable moments.

Please note: This website may contain references to, or feature images, videos, and voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who have passed away.

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