Suicide and grief are often difficult topics to talk about for many people, but no matter how uncomfortable they may be, the reality is that those who have been touched by a loved one's suicide or suicide attempt need support.
With mental health issues expected to skyrocket following on from the drought, bushfires and now COVID-19, it's now more important than ever to provide support to people who have been impacted by suicide in an attempt to prevent a ripple effect.
That's where the aftercare program at HealthWISE comes in.
HealthWISE's Suicide Prevention Initiative (SPI) Aftercare program provides person-centred, individual psychological support and strength-based strategies for people whose lives have been touched by suicide.
"Grief from suicide is very complex," HealthWISE's mental health lived experience worker and Aftercare program facilitator Donna Boughton said.
"People will be overwhelmed with feelings and thoughts of 'why?', confusion, anger, shame, guilt and sadness.
"If you lose someone in an accident or illness the loss is great. Loss to suicide is also overwhelming but is often accompanied with trauma to those left behind.
"The thought that someone chose to end their life is devastating and brings an onslaught of thoughts and questions that often cannot be answered. As painful as it is, these thoughts and questions need to be voiced and validated, to move towards healing.
"People who have been touched by suicide loss can themselves be at risk of suicide. They may become overwhelmed in their suffering and see no answer of how to stop their persistent pain.
"Which is why this program is an 'aftercare' program but also suicide prevention."
The SPI Aftercare program provides the support of a trained person who will listen with a depth of understanding and focus to people who are experiencing grief from a suicide, which Ms Boughton said is important.
"The need for ongoing care is essential to help manage the symptoms and issues of trauma and loss," she said.
"It can be difficult for anyone wanting to comfort those who are grieving. It can be hard work helping someone with their pain. Often the best thing is not to say anything. Being able to sit, validate and witness their pain helps enormously.
"The pain of the person who is suffering cannot be 'fixed', nor should it need be. The grief process is normal and has to be entered into towards a manageable acceptance in coping in life that is forever changed.
"Once they're able to talk about it and express their feelings, they're able to think a little clearer. And as that starts to happen more, we look at coping skills and strategies."
The program is free for individuals who have been discharged in the past twelve months following an acute admission resulting from suicidal behaviour, as well as family members/significant others of individuals who have attempted suicide or have lost a loved one by suicide in the past 12 months.
Ms Boughton said the first 12 months are often the hardest.
"It's all the firsts - the first Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries ... it becomes very real," she said.
"At the start you have the shock, but it can be even more painful at the end of 12 months because reality has set in.
"In a normal loss, as well as a suicide loss, everything comes at the start. Everyone is there for you, checking in and bringing food. But two to three months down the track that all stops. That's when reality is setting in and when you're really needing someone.
"Most people go back to their lives and you are left alone to survive the brutal reality that has happened. This leads to isolation, depression and fear.
"And often, people you think are going to be there for you are going through grief as well and they find it too hard to give continued support or a listening ear.
"It's that ripple effect of suicide. It effects so many people - those who are left behind are grieving and this grief then has an effect on their relationships.
"The first person on the scene of a suicide is often dramatically traumatised. Their whole world is made unsafe. They have to contend with both trauma and grief and then the questions of why. The people left behind have all this going on in their head.
"And if a loved one has tried and survived, there is the ongoing fear they may make another attempt."
The SPI Aftercare program is currently being offered in Armidale, Glen Innes, Gunnedah, Inverell, Moree, Narrabri, Quirindi, Tamworth, Manilla, Barraba and Walcha.
As well as face-to-face support, people can access the Aftercare program via phone or telehealth platforms. HealthWISE also offers information presentations to help educate groups in building confidence to talk about suicide risk and support for people affected by loss.
One of the workshops they offer is an informative and interactive three-hour workshop designed specifically to give community members an insight into suicide through the lens of people who have personally experienced it, and equip them with the right knowledge and practical tools to reduce the emotional pain experienced by many around us, and even save a life.
To make enquiries, call 1800 931 540 or people can get a referral letter from their doctor or self refer if they have been bereaved by suicide. For more information, go to www.healthwise.org.au.