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Let's Talk about youth suicide
Sam Fitzgibbon was a member of Ellerslie Fire Brigade alongside his dad Michael. At 21 years of age, Sam was a farmer with a firm handshake and a smile who always had time for a chat. He had a loving family and a network of friends and was a proud and perfectionist young man.
Sam took his life in March this year, writing a letter to his family and friends telling them how much he loved them, how he loved the farm but how his mental health struggle meant that, right or wrong, he had to leave them.
This leaves Sam’s family and friend with a lifetime of heartbreak. Why couldn’t Sam tell any of them how he was feeling? They would have done anything to help him. If only he had accepted that anxiety/depression was an illness that can be treated.
A total of 3027 Australians committed suicide last year; twice the national road toll. The greatest risk groups are men between the ages of 16-25, 34-43 and over 84.
Sam’s parents Michael and Jane Fitzgibbon want to do all they can to ensure no other family has to go through the same heartbreak.
‘Let’s Talk’ is a program that Michael, Jane and Warrnambool’s St John of God Hospital Mental Health Counselling Centre have initiated and are presenting at local schools and sporting clubs. It aims to reduce the stigma of mental illness and encourages early intervention.
‘Let’s Talk’ is also an acrostic, spelling out some of its key points:
L = learn self-care
E = express your feelings
T = tell someone
S = someone loves you
T = talk
A = ask how you’re feeling
L = listen
K = keep talking
“The community needs to own this issue and show care,” said Jane. “No one should be suffering in isolation. It’s OK to tell someone that you’re sad, you’re lonely and not finding enjoyment in the usual things.
“Don’t make the mistake of thinking that things aren’t going to get better.
“One in five people will have a mental health crisis in their lifetime. It needs to become normal for people in families and communities to talk honestly about how they are. It has to become more socially acceptable to say you’re not feeling OK, and ask for help.”
Mobile phones, Facebook, Twitter. We can lose sight of the fact that the most compelling World Wide Web is the web of relationships that connects us to others and where each person is irreplaceable.
“Only three per cent of our interactions are face to face,” continued Jane. “With social media, you can go for a whole day and you haven’t talked to anyone and that’s especially true of our young people.
“Once you have an awareness of yourself and others, you have a responsibility. Reach out, connect, seek help and understand that help is different for everyone.”
With the backing of Sam’s family and not long after his death, a community gathering was arranged at a local golf club. Close to 200 people attended, arriving early and staying late, including representatives of all Mortlake Group brigades and neighbouring groups.
“We need to get off the farm and really be aware of what’s going on in the community,” said dairy farmer and Ellerslie Captain Merrilyn McCosh.
“The brigade paid for finger food and drinks and we had three CFA peers there. I really just asked people to talk to each other. We all have our mobile phones so call people up and really talk to them.”
What to do if you are the one approached
Warrnambool St John of God Hospital’s Mental Health Manager John Parkinson is working with Michael and Jane on the ‘Let’s Talk’ initiative. He knows the anguish of those left behind after suicide.
“Health services alone can’t provide all the necessary help for all those seeking it,” said John. “It’s up to the community to take responsibility and open the conversation.
“We live through times when other people care more for us than we care for ourselves so sometimes we need to trust others more than we trust ourselves. Someone who’s depressed might be telling themselves ‘I’m inadequate’ and have feelings of guilt and shame.”
John firmly believes that people of good will with common sense are unlikely to say the ‘wrong’ thing to a loved one who reveals that they’re not coping.
“If you sense that a family member, friend or someone in your peer group is a little different, pick a moment when you’re alone together and say with sincerity and genuine concern, ‘I’ve noticed you’re a little quieter lately. Is everything OK?’,“ said John.
“What’s most important is to instil hope that it isn’t forever. Let them know that what they’re experiencing is treatable and you can and will help them find assistance.
“Conversations that convey true empathy can start to remove the stigma around mental illness. Understand that everything is a topic of conversation.”
John believes the key to good mental health is having a balanced life, engaging in activities you find meaningful and staying connected with the people you love and feel loved by.
“Stresses are a part of our lives so it’s important to have productive ways of dealing with them,” he said. “It’s so important to step away from the busyness of our lives and participate in pleasurable activities or even do nothing for a while and give our brain a rest.”
beyondblue provides information and support to help all of us maintain our mental health. The organisation highlights the following signs that may indicate someone is at risk of suicide. This risk is greater if a behaviour is new or has increased.
· Excessive or disturbed sleep
· Increased or loss of appetite
· Signs of self-harm
· Withdrawn and isolated
· Inability to make decisions, irritable, agitated
· Risk-taking behaviours that are out of character
· Personal care and hygiene changes
· Increased alcohol or illicit substance use
· Relationship break down
· Changes in mood
· Finalising affairs, completing wills and clearing debts, giving away personal effects
· Irritable or anxious
· Sad or empty
· Hopeless or helpless
· A sudden change from feeling sad and empty to having a sense of calm
· Preoccupation with talking about death and morbid subjects
· Topics centre around guilt, escape, loneliness or helplessness
· Believing there is no future
· Saying goodbyes
If you are concerned about someone, have the conversation
· Create an opportunity to talk in private to show genuine care and concern
· Be curious about their thoughts and feelings
· Instil hope
· Be sincere and express that you are open to talking when they’re ready
· Suggest talking to a counsellor, doctor, Lifeline, beyondblue or someone else
· Recognise that they may lack motivation to seek help so support them as they make the call or attend appointments.
If you or someone you know needs help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Headspace on 1800 650 890.
If you are in an emergency situation or at immediate risk of harm, contact emergency services on 000.
CFA Welfare Support Services
Member Assistance Program: 1300 795 711 (24 hours)
Peer Support Program: contact your local peer coordinator
Chaplaincy Program: 1800 337 068 (24 hours)
HeadsUP online resources: cfa.vic.gov.au/headsup