The TRAGEDY of SUICIDE
The worlds of heartache and tragedy are never far removed from the reality of Tony Humphrey's life. For the past 35 years - since he lost his daughter to suicide - he has been at the forefront of the support and advocacy movement in NSW and around Australia helping those most vulnerable, whether they are contemplating suicide, are survivors, or affected friends and families.
He says preventing suicide means, “understanding how to work with people at every point in their journey. Suicide inflicts unimaginable grief.”
In many ways, In the early days of understanding and advocacy, he has been a voice in the wilderness.
Through sheer determination and his unwavering choice to help in this area, he has rattled the cages of mental health professionals and government agencies. In 1989, he set up the first lobby group to tackle the tragic problem - the Australian Association of Suicide Prevention.
In 1994, he established the Australian Mental Health Suicide Consumer - Alliance Inc, which was also known as Club Speranza – an organisation for carers, survivors and professionals.
Groups like this paved the way for organisations like beyondblue and other advocacy organisations.
“What we have aimed to do over the years is to work with and for all those affected before and after the suicide,” he tells North Shore Living, “and work in a positive way with service providers, promoting Intergovernmental relationships.”
Mr Humphrey, who lives at Cremorne, set up support groups on the North Shore and in other areas in Sydney, which were operational for 18 years. Due to funding Constraints, Club Speranza, which means ‘hope’, was forced to disband three years ago.
Recent figures have shown the suicide rate has risen to its highest level In 13 years - but Mr Humphrey says he doesn't like the term 'suicide rates'.
“These are people's lives we are referring to,” he says with concern. “It de-personallses the tragic death.”
Travelling around the world over the past 35 years, he says 24-hour crisis centres like they have in parts of the United States are needed, where people at risk can be counselled and monitored.
Systemic failures in care mean up to 20 per cent of suicides happen to people who are either inpatients at a health facility, on-leave from the health facility or about seven days after contact, but without specific admission.
"There should also be more centres where people at risk can self admit so if they feel they are in crisis, they're not going to be turned away," he insists.
“At the moment, patients are being discharged without adequate assessment and follow-up procedures.” For North Shore resident and former TV star Tom Mackay, he seemed to have the world at his feet when he became a Big Brother contestant in 2014, but he now reveals he felt "depressed, empty, anxious and used alcohol as his favorite distraction".
His journey to escape his mental health anguish recently took him on an 880km, six-week walk through India.
"I was constantly asked ‘Mr Tom, what is your purpose?' as I walked kilometre after kilometre,” he tells North Shore Living, “and I sometimes asked myself the same question.
"I was facing my own mental health demons and I wanted to make a positive change from being stuck in a sleep-walking routine of mediocrity."
He says while In India, for the first time in many years, he finally found himself heading in the right direction. “Each day I was confronted with something new," he confirms, “and a different way of looking at the world.”
Mr. Mackay says he's now on a mission to break the stigma around mental health and the tragic deaths by suicide.
"Many people don't access treatment due to embarrassment,” he explains, “and the hopelessness of the situation they find themselves in. It becomes too much for many.”
Mosman grief councillor and psychotherapist Dr Diana Sands, has been, "navigating the labyrinth of grief with support, information and strategies" for more than 20 years. She has established counselling and support programs, written books, including Red Chocolate Elephants for children affected by suicide. She's also spoken at seminars and conferences on ways to support those bereaved by suicide.
"This type of grief is so intense it can shatter a person's world," she proclaims. "I try and create a safe haven to support the process of putting together the pieces and assisting in coping with the grief.”
She also has a key involvement with the locally-based Wings of Hope group, which have placed a bench among the trees on beautiful Balmoral Island to remember those who lost their lives to suicide.
Lifeline CEO of the Harbour to Hawkesbury region, Wendy Carver, tells North Shore Living there are four "C's" which are the key to the organisation's lifesaving work.
"These are compassion, connection, capability and community," she says. "We are appealing to businesses, schools and sporting clubs to give us financial and hands-on support for our local services. We're grateful for the support we already have with our retail op shops and book fairs.
"At all our local levels we are experiencing higher rates of face to-face counselling and support group activity. However, while we are still able to provide the positive, life-changing services to individuals our resources are stretched.”
Lifeline CEO, Peter Schmigel says the calls to their crisis centres reached a record one million last year.
"Suicide predictors for men and women are different but there is no doubt we are in the midst of a national emergency," he concedes.