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Innovative peer-to-peer suicide program

Two American pioneers of a revolutionary, peer-to-peer suicide prevention initiative shared their compelling, personal stories at a MercyCare forum in a bid to help others. Their stories and the stories of others have enabled them to develop a unique approach to suicide prevention which is changing lives.

MercyCare were the host of two Western Massachusetts Recovery Learning Community (WMRLC) trainers Lisa Forestell and Caroline White.  They presented at the ‘Alternatives to Suicide’ forum to describe a peer approach to suicide prevention that is the only one of its kind anywhere.

Up to 400 participants, including people living with mental illness, service providers and policymakers, attended the event in Maylands on Monday, February 20.

The forum outlined a peer-to-peer approach to support people through mental health issues and suicidal thoughts.

Ms Forestell, who has worked with the WMRLC for a decade, spent more than 20 years of her life in the US psychiatric system and identifies as a “voice hearer” and someone who routinely contemplates suicide.

She now leads community discussions about how to change the way these issues are portrayed and guide individuals.

Ms White was first involved with psychiatry at the age of eight and many years later was able to navigate a path out of a world defined by mental health diagnoses and medication through roller derby and social activism.

She has worked tirelessly to create change in the mental health system across North Carolina and Massachusetts.

Both women believe that human relationships are at the core of healing people in extreme emotional states, living with trauma and mental health diagnoses 

They were each awarded the Leadership in Suicide Prevention Award in 2014 by the Massachusetts Suicide Prevention Coalition.

MercyCare Chief Executive Officer Chris Hall said MercyCare was proud to host the event and hoped the innovative approach would help empower others and be an important contribution to suicide prevention in Western Australia.

“We are proud to welcome two skilled presenters to Perth to share their compelling personal stories and how they have used this to establish a group approach that assists others. In coming to Perth they will provide insights into one of the most innovative developments in mental health,” Mr Hall said.

“In an environment when most people living with mental illness are managed by clinicians, this offers a peer-to-peer alternative in which people have found strength in coming together to support each other in times of great distress.”

The forum was opened by Mental Health Minister Andrea Mitchel and attended by Ministerial Council for Suicide Prevention Chair Neale Fong and Mental Health Advisory Council Chair Barry MacKinnon.

MercyCare has funded the event and the WA Association of Mental Health, Consumers of Mental Health WA and Subiaco based mental health support group, Helping Minds have partnered with them to help spread the awareness. They also supported a number of other events featuring the two speakers across the week.