Watershed strategy to save lives

Julian Leeser at the launch of the strategy. Photo: Noel Kessel

TWENTY-ONE organisations have banded together to launch a landmark and inspiring Jewish Suicide Prevention Strategy (JSPS).

The two-year initiative – launched at the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies’ plenum last Tuesday – aims to raise awareness, educate and empower members of the Jewish community in suicide prevention.

In a heartfelt speech, federal MP Julian Leeser opened up about his own father’s suicide and commended the community’s devotion to the cause.

“It is wonderful that – for the first time in my knowledge – we are having culturally specific … training and specific strategy prepared for one of our diverse multicultural communities in this country and this – as in so many things – makes our community a real leader,” said Leeser. “All of us in our own way – by being educated, by being empowered, by being aware – can be lifesavers.”

Chair of the JSPS Woollahra Councillor Isabelle Shapiro commented, “We all know somebody who has been touched by suicide, and it is through this coordinated community-wide project that we can make a difference … The community will be educated in factors related to suicidal behaviour and understand that it’s okay to talk about suicide.”

To coincide with Suicide Prevention Day in September last year, the JSPS’s steering committee – consisting of Jewish community and emergency service organisations, youth groups, schools, health professionals and rabbis – was formed. Already providing training in mental health first aid and suicide prevention, the JSPS offers programs tailored to meet the needs of youth, seniors and specific community groups.

The strategy also includes the establishment of a monthly support group called Suicide Impacting Me, for anyone touched by suicide, and in the coming months a speakers bureau with representatives who have lived experience will be formed because – as Shapiro noted – there is nothing more powerful than the individual personal story.

The project – initiated by manager of JewishCare’s mental health and wellbeing team Claire Gil Munoz – has been supported by JCA funding.

Urging his audience to take up three challenges, Leeser emphasised the importance of not just asking “are you okay?” but instead to ask: “are you contemplating suicide?” to anyone who may exhibit changes in behaviour.

The second challenge, Leeser posed, is for employees of the JSPS partner organisations to train in suicide awareness and prevention, before taking the strategy to other community organisations that are not yet partners. The third challenge is for individuals to bring the JSPS to other communities.

As chairman of Suicide Prevention Australia Matthew Tukaki remarked, “Communities are the ones that create momentum and it is momentum that creates change.”

If you or someone you know is struggling, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Jewish House on 1300 544 357.

SOPHIE DEUTSCH