Wellways Family and Carer Services worker Michelle Debenham was last month a guest at the Suicide Prevention Conference in Adelaide. This is her report on the three-day event.

I was lucky enough to be granted a bursary scholarship to attend the conference, which was opened by Matthew Tukaki of Suicide Prevention Australia and John Dawkins MP in the South Australian Government. 

Aboriginal elder Aunty Suzanne Russell delivered an inspiring ‘Welcome to Country’ and spoke about the prevalence of suicide in the indigenous community. She said factors contributing to suicide in her community included loss of connection to family and culture and the abuse of alcohol and drugs. 

She also said that colonisation of Australia, without consideration for her people and their culture, was the most influential factor on indigenous mental health and the prevalence of suicide.

Next, medical specialist and University of Adelaide academic Dr Robert Goldney, told the medical history of suicide. Since 1892 the great majority of suicides (59.6%) were put down to ‘Meloncholia’. Agricultural distress was a known contributor to suicide and child suicide had also been identified. 

Not surprisingly, alcohol had played a significant part, along with examples of ‘hereditary suicide’ and the ‘contagion/media effect’ which was also well documented. This is the theory where coverage in the media gives rise to copycat events.

Dr Goldney said the best advice in suicide prevention was to use an Evidence Based Practice approach, identifying risk factors to predict suicide and to aid in preventing it. 

He said the ‘zero suicide movement’ gave communities unrealistic expectations and had potential to deepen feelings of guilt and a rise in litigation.  

Dr Goldney also argued that scarce funds and resources should go to well-researched projects which would produce measurable outcomes and provide evidence. 

Carol Hopkins from Canada’s Thunderbird Partnership Foundation spoke about ‘life promotion’ and taking a strength-based approach to suicide prevention. She argued ‘Life promotion’ was more effective than suicide prevention.

Along with attending workshops, meeting other participants and delegates and hearing about their professional experiences and lived experience and exchanging ideas, made me feel supported and reinforced the learning experience.

The interaction with other conference participants really enhanced my learning. The sharing and discussions of personal lived experience illustrated how much the conference had worked. 

The depth of relationships being formed, for me, was a highlight and coming from a rural background, it is not something that I am able to replicate easily living where I do. Just this immersion in both professional and personal landscapes was so worth the engagement with this bursary program. I am very appreciative of the opportunity.

In quotes

Here are some quotes from speakers (and their famous inspiration)

“The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.”  Also: “We can’t grow a wish bone where a backbone ought to be.” - Carol Hopkins 

“It is a basic human right to live within your own cultural, beliefs and values.” - Dr Vanessa Lee

“The caring, compassionate, engagement of another human being, is the only thing that works.” - David Covington, CEO and President of RI International, Arizona.

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” - Albert Einstein 

"A good friend will always stab you in the front.” - Oscar Wilde