Benalla hears progress on suicide prevention trial, six months in

UNITED: Murray PHN's Bek Nash-Webster, Neil Stott of Benalla Health and community member Melinda Pentreath are working to prevent suicide. Picture: JAMES WILTSHIRE
UNITED: Murray PHN's Bek Nash-Webster, Neil Stott of Benalla Health and community member Melinda Pentreath are working to prevent suicide. Picture: JAMES WILTSHIRE

The Benalla community has responded positively to its first update on a trial developing local strategies to prevent suicide.

The city is one of 12 locations across Victoria taking part in the trial, lead by the state government and the federal government’s primary health networks.

A community meeting was held at the end of February to reflect on the first six months of the Benalla project.

Melinda Pentreath, a local teacher appointed to an action committee, was glad to see sustained community interest following a forum in 2016.

The form, attended by Victorian Mental Health Minister Martin Foley, followed the death of teenager Max Avdyugin.

“Everything was still very raw then – there was a lot of emotion in the room,” Ms Pentreath said.

“It was good to have another follow-up, so that the community can keep up to speed.

“Working with youth everyday, it’s fantastic having all these services and they’re working really hard, but they’re sort of behind the scenes.

“I’m on the forefront and have been in numerous situations where I’m with somebody that has attempted suicide.

“It’s about bringing together the forefront and all the services to work together as one – it needs to be a community force that works together.”

Murray PHN suicide prevention place-based co-ordinator Bek Nash-Webster said any interventions to come out of the project would be directed by the community.

“That’s why every six months, we go back to them and say ‘This is what we’ve been doing, how does this fit with what’s actually needed?” she said.

“People want to hear in another six months’ time about Live4Life (a youth suicide prevention program) and about somebody who is on the steering group that wasn’t before, and their experience.

“All the activities that are taking place go towards the statewide evaluation of best practice for supporting people and communities with suicide prevention activity.”

Benalla Health community health director Neil Stott said local agencies had been leading the push since 2015 and earlier.

“An 80-year-old woman came into my office and said ‘We need to do something about suicide’,” he said.

“We organised with her a forum where 300 people turned up.

“The following year it was followed up with the mayor at the time, Justin King, taking a stance and the next forum at the performing arts centre again brought the community together.

“There were a couple fundamental questions we wanted to keep presenting; the first was about where people go to get help, because whilst the help existed, the awareness of where to go wasn’t there.

“The second big question was what to do when someone was in crisis.”

Mr Stott said many programs including the Live4Life initiative were improving awareness, but there was still work to do.

“The community voice is so important, otherwise it just doesn’t work,” he said.

The trial forms part of the Victorian Government suicide prevention framework 2016-2025 aimed at halving Victoria’s suicide rates by 2025.

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