Counsel and support in times of crisis

John Clark from RAW Tas counsels

Counsel and support in times of crisis

JUNE 2015 |JOANNE EISEMANN

“SUICIDE IS the most preventable cause of death,” says John Clark, a newly appointed Meander Valley outreach worker for Rural Alive and Well (RAW).

RAW started in the Midlands 7 years ago when a severe drought saw a number of farmers take their own lives.

A few locals got together and decided to do something about the problem.

“We attracted enough funding to employ one bloke in a ute and sent him around the local area.

From there it’s grown to ten staff, covering the entire state,” says John.

Suicide levels in Tasmania are the second highest in the nation, behind the Northern Territory; you are twice as likely to die this way than in a road accident.

Men are also three times more likely to thus die than women, the highest risk group being males aged seventy and over, with those in their mid 40’s coming in second.

While they are more successful at attempting suicides, females do so at higher rates, with equal effect across all age groups.

John explains, “The further you are away from services, the more prone you are to suicide.”

That, together with risk factors like social isolation and stress, “tends to really gang up on somebody with no reprieve”.

No stranger to depression, John has himself been close to suicide and is able to empathise with people experiencing suicidal feelings: “I didn’t realise I had depression. I didn’t realise I was ill.
I just knew I was really angry, really irritable, not performing well, unable to make decisions and avoiding people.”

“It wasn’t until I jumped on the beyondblue website and started looking at some of the symptoms of depression and thought, ‘wow, this is me, this is describing my situation’, that I went to the doctor and received some medication. (And) went to see a psychologist and started to do some work on recovery,” he adds.

A trained Chemical Engineer, John finds the work he does with RAW far more satisfying and wishes that suicides were talked about more, to help reduce the stigma.

He elaborates, “It is not something that gets reported in the media unless a high profile person, such as Robin Williams, dies this way.

Suicide was, until quite recently against the law and is considered a sin by some churches.

Put that together and throw in a little bit of mental illness and you have something that just doesn’t get talked about.”

As a result, RAW staff conduct farm and house visits on a ‘cold call’ basis and to those who have been referred by their friends, family or work colleagues.

“We help people to get help,” emphasises John.

RAW has a wide referral network. Despite strong backgrounds in working with people, and mental health, their staff are not clinicians – they do not offer any professional counselling.

Instead, they focus on connecting people with appropriate services and support: “Help is always available; there is always hope. There is no situation that is insurmountable.”

If you need help or know someone who might, contact RAW via their 24/7 hotline: 1300 4357 6283, www.rawtas.com.au or Facebook: ‘Raw Tas’.

 Mike Moores