Shirley’s Story (written by Jess Gabites)
Shirley McDonald attended Hope’s ‘Learning to Live with Loss’ program in early 2018, after her husband Allan passed away in 2017. “It was a lifesaver for me,” she said. “I don’t know what I would have done without it.”
“It was a place of confidence where you felt could speak of the death of your loved one without feeling guilty, because there is a lot of guilt sometimes. Amongst all of the tears you are able to discuss these issues and hear someone else say ‘that’s exactly how I felt’ or ‘that’s what I did’. And you felt that you weren’t alone.”
Mrs McDonald said the coping strategies she learned through Christine were also extremely important.
“I don’t know what I would have done without it (the program) because I have been the type of person who has put on a happy face. From when Allan had his first stroke it was 11 years until he died. We did everything together and all of a sudden he wasn’t there. I put on a happy face but I realised I had done the wrong thing because everyone assumes that you are ok. It wasn’t until I went to this course that I realised how much help I needed.”
“If I didn’t have someone like that I don’t know where I would be.”
Kim’s Story (written by Jess Gabites)
Ocean Grove mother Kim Edgar has co-authored a report outlining critical findings and recommendations from a national survey of Australian parents who have lost a child to suicide. Ms Edgar has been a strong advocate for youth suicide prevention and bereavement support since her son Daniel took his own life in 2018.
Bullying, the lack of intervention and support for the bereaved after a suicide, disjointedness between services and a shortfall in understanding and training among first responders, were just some of the findings.
The Parents Living With Suicide Australia (PLWSA) Lived Experience 2019 Survey Report documents findings of a lived experience survey undertaken by 42 respondents from every Australian state and territory, except ACT. The report also made recommendations on possible solutions. The respondents were parents who had lost children – both young and adults – to suicide.
Parents Living with Suicide Australia (PLWSA) is an online postvention support group consisting of parents and grandparents who have lost loved ones to suicide.
Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians aged between 15 years and 44, according to Lifeline, 2015.
Ms Edgar wrote the report last year with the support of New South Wales journalist Ursula Wharton, who is also a mother in the support group.
Ms Edgar is focused on the vital need for postvention support for families (intervention and support for the bereaved after a suicide) and a much-needed adolescent mental health unit in the Geelong region. Currently, young people from our region requiring support are sent to the Banksia Unit at Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne.
The Parents Living With Suicide Australia (PLWSA) Lived Experience 2019 Survey Report was sent to Australian Government organisations and politicians including Federal Minister for Health Greg Hunt, Victorian Minister for Health Martin Foley, Geelong-based Liberal Senator Sarah Henderson and Libby Coker, Federal Member for Corangamite.
Senator Henderson said Ms Edgar gave a “very powerful and courageous presentation about the loss of her beautiful son Daniel and changes that needed to be made to our mental health system”.
“As Kim spoke about, Geelong is in dire need of prevention and recovery care (PARC) mental health beds for young people. Too many are falling through the gaps. Despite the enormous trauma that Kim and her two other sons have endured, I am so proud of her advocacy and her bravery in speaking out.”
Ms Edgar also sent the report to the Productivity Commission which is looking into the Australian mental health system. Minister Foley and Ms Coker didn’t respond.
Earlier this year it was announced the Morrison Government would invest $64 million into suicide prevention and mental health initiatives as an early response to initial advice from Christine Morgan, the National Suicide Prevention Adviser. Ms Morgan said the suicide prevention approach needed to be co-designed “in a way that is led by those with lived and living experience of suicide”.
“Going forward I think it is promising that both on a federal and a state level there is recognition that the mental health system is broken,” Ms Edgar said.
“Acknowledging that is the first step. I think that there is still a lot of work to be done culturally around destigmitisation of mental health issues and suicide.”
“As a group of carers we felt that we were not listened to, we were not taken seriously. This was definitely a major frustration in us seeking help for our person.”
The disjointedness between services and lack of knowledge in the industry of different support options were also of major concerns for Australian families, the survey found.
“Some people’s response was there was a real lack of plan, education or follow up for the caregiver or patient when someone presents as suicidal or following discharge after a suicide attempt.”
“When presenting to health professionals often the unwell person is expected to articulate concerns in a way that raises red flags, however it is the professional’s job to ask the right questions,” Ms Edgar said.
“Outreach services for people unable or unwilling to engage in clinical settings is needed, particularly for our young people. And streamlining the system in a way that doesn’t require the unwell person to have to retell their story to multiple clinicians, multiple times.”
The report also highlighted the seriousness of bullying within schools, work places, universities and the military.
“We also felt, generally speaking, there is a not a lot of understanding and training with first responders around recognising suicidality. These first responders are not necessarily emergency personnel they are people at Centrellink, they are the school counsellor, their teacher.”
Ms Edgar said staff turnover, more prevalent in public health service, was also a big issue with people developing a relationship with a professional only for them to move on.
Ms Edgar said it was significant that the recent funding announcements had highlighted the importance of postvention support, with $10 million going towards ensuring more Australians had support after losing a loved one to suicide
“There’s not a consistent approach to the national delivery of postvention services and there needs to be. The long term effects of suicide bereavement are far reaching and long term.”
Ms Edgar said the one-on-one counselling and group counselling she received through Geelong’s Hope Bereavement Care following the death of her child, was critical.
“It was lifesaving and life changing for me. It is so needed.”
Hope’s grief counsellor also met with the family, including Ms Edgar’s other two sons, in the week after Daniel’s death.
“It was the first time we could all talk about what this meant for all of our lives from that point on – that was a conversation we couldn’t have with anyone else.”
“These women (from the group counselling sessions) are the most amazing support now as you can talk to them about stuff that no one else can understand.”
Established in 1985, Hope is a community-driven organisation which offers free information, support and counselling when grieving the death of a child, the sudden and unexpected death of an adult and those experiencing the loss after suicide. Hope receives no direct Government funding.
Ms Edgar said funding around suicide prevention and support needed to be used well.
“You can’t just throw money at it and think it is now better. The work has to be done on doing it properly. What I think is really promising is when they talk about it being a truly co-designed system – taking the experiences of the people who have experience of the mental health system and issues – to make it better.”
To read the Report: https://www.pc.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/248652/sub609-mental-health.pdf
Caroline’s Story (written by Caroline)
My Father Kingsley died in July 2018 in England. He had battle with Alzheimer’s, Vascular Dementia and Parkinson’s Disease for 2 years. The rate of decline, in his case was quite fast. At the time of his illness I was working in a Dementia Unit here in Geelong. As a result I could see each stage of his decline. Obviously, living apart from my family was incredibly difficult. Hope Bereavement Care was such an important part of what I needed.
I went back to the UK 3 times during this period. The final visit I had arrived to find my father unable to talk and barely conscious. He was extremely agitated as his Parkinson’s meant he could not straighten his legs or sleep normally. This had lead to bedsores. The end of a persons life is a hard thing to watch, especially when you love them. No human should ever have to suffer to this extent. Luckily for me I was able to help the care team, during their visits. It enabled me to see exactly how frail he was. We called a Dr to our house on a Sunday morning. He prescribed Morphine and a nurse driver. Sadly the Chemist who received the fax was closed so we called an ambulance at 3.30 am as he needed the right medication to be able to eventually drift into a peaceful sleep. Prior to this mum had courageously cared for dad alone in the week. My brother who lives 3 hours away came to help at the weekends. Dad had been resistive to care from other people. My family were suffering. They made the brave decision to allow dad to die at home, where he wanted to be. It was a peaceful place to die.
I stayed in the Uk for about 3 weeks, we had the funeral and I helped clear up my folks house. My family all dealt with dad’s passing differently. We were hugely relieved he was no longer suffering. We were all still in shock. I was reluctant to come back to Australia, but my young family needed me.
I realised that I needed to see a professional to talk through what had happened. I contacted the Alzheimer’s office in Geelong. I had not been in touch with them before. I had called a helpline once. They had suggested I go to a carers meeting? I had felt uncomfortable about that as my family were not living close by. I felt a fraud as I wasn’t caring on a daily basis. Alzheimer’s Australia offered me a group of sessions at a fee. There was a 6 week wait. I waited, meanwhile burning myself out at work. I was extremely relieved to finally get to see somebody but the session didn’t offer me what I was looking for. Not their fault. I was very angry.
After this, a friend suggested I see an Art Therapist she knew. I didn’t gel with that either. I was resentful that I kept having to explain my story but I could not find somebody who could help me. I became very snappy and retreated from life. Not that is easy when you have school runs!
I then started chatting to friends online who had had similar experiences. They suggested I continue in my search of a local group? I liked that idea as I had responded to a Mothers Group. I thought it might help to be going through a process with other people here. So this lead me to Hope Bereavement.
Christine left a phone message, as I was working. She explained that there were only group bereavement sessions for parents who had lost children or for couples who had lost their loved ones. She then suggested we chat? I agreed with a sense of dread.
During that time a lot of people were telling me to see a Dr to go on medication. I saw no benefit in masking my symptoms. What I was going through was normal, after all. I just needed to process everything. I now realise there is no sudden awakening from grief. I just have adapted. I am proud to be Kingsley’s daughter. He was an incredible man. I am lucky to have had him in my life. We all made memories that can be cherished. Now we just are onto another chapter. I have created ways to spend time with him, but would dearly love to have a chance to chat again, thats life.
My role as a mother watching an illness take away a person I love , has meant I have not always dealt well with stress. I am unable to hide my pain. I guess in some way I felt they should witness some of the process? During dad’s decline I went to the UK 3 times. Once with the kids. They have had to do a lot of grown up things. They saw some strange behaviours and they have experienced separation anxiety. I spoke a lot about this to Christine. She offered to see one of my kids before a trip and put me in touch with a kid’s therapy space. She even gave my mum some reading material on her visit here.
Straight after meeting Christine I knew I had met the right person. She reminded me of a friend who lives in the UK. She was also English so understood what it takes to leave home and people you love.
During our first session Christine noticed I was shaking. She asked me if I was cold? I had got so run down I could no longer hide my pain. The sense of release I felt in being able to talk about what was going on in my head was immense. I walked to school to collect my children lighter that day. I was still frozen in my chest but I could breathe again. I had a coping mechanism.
The journey I am on is still bumpy somedays, I have wonderful family and friends support. I have Hope Bereavement . My family were also lucky as we could put on a fundraiser in the Uk in memory of Kingsley which helped us communicate as a family. We had a focus to put our energy towards.It forced us to look forward.
I have recommended a few others to the service.
Please give Hope Bereavement all the funding it needs to stay open. It is a vital service for Geelong. Especially to Parents who have to bury their children. Thank you all for your dedication. What a special bunch of folk you must be.
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