The UCA suicide awareness campaign, Suicide: It’s No Secret, began in 2011 as a project of the then Moderator, Rev Rob Williams. In 2011, the remembrance service was preceded by a media interview and the launch of black balloons. The campaign continues, albeit with little less of the character of a blockbuster production. It seems that free fairy floss draws more attention than black balloons.
The name of the campaign reflects its underlying aim: to encourage people to talk about how suicide has touched their lives, rather than bottle up all the emotions that surround this tragedy and keep it secret. Opening up and talking is the first step to dealing with this very painful issue. For many years, suicide was seen as a taboo topic. The press did not report on it. Often, family members or friends who had lost a loved one to suicide felt ashamed about the situation and were reluctant to talk.
Rob was motivated to start the campaign because of his experiences as a country minister. Suicide, however, strikes all areas in our society. The statistics identify concentrations among young adult males, country areas, the indigenous population and, more recently, drug users, in particular of “Ice.” More people die because of suicide each year than in motor accidents.
This year, the event at Scots took place on September 10, World Suicide Prevention Day, which was also “R U OK Day” this year.
At Scots, we hosted a service for the remembrance of those lost to suicide as well as the regular information stall on the forecourt. The service time was switched to 8am, partly to see how many people would be attracted to that time. The service was led by Peter Trudinger and the Moderator, Dr Deidre Palmer, who preached. People had the opportunity to light a candle in memory of one lost to suicided and to spread petals in a bowl of water. Attendance was light, perhaps a reflection of the time as well as the relatively short time given to advertising the event.
The activity on the forecourt was another matter. From 10am to 4 pm, a hardy band of volunteers handed out information, gave away fairy floss and staffed the information table. Peter Hacquoil, the Piano Man, also played during the time. As in previous years, some of us roamed the pedestrian areas, giving out stickers and drink coasters and inviting people to pick up some more information or stop for fairy floss.
There was no way to count the number of people who were approached or noticed the event. There were “lots” of them. It seemed that the fairy floss queue was longer each time I looked at it. The queue gave us the opportunity to talk briefly with people and hand out some material.
This year, preparations for the event got off to a late start, largely because of some staffing issues at the Synod. Nevertheless, things seemed to come together as the day got closer. Thanks are due to all who helped – the office staff, fairy floss makers, sidewalk walkers, information sitters, church sitter and more – I won’t name them all, but they know who they are.
Suicide: It’s No Secret continues through September along the Pulteney St side of our property, where there is the opportunity to tie a yellow ribbon onto the fence, in memory of someone lost to suicide.
Remembrance services are also being conducted at various other Uniting Churches throughout the state.
Of course, there is no way to measure the impact of the event. Purely on an anecdotal basis, I feel that the strength of the taboo on talking about suicide in our society is decreasing. If this is so, then our campaign would have contributed to this. At any rate, surely our efforts would be worthwhile if only one life was changed, was preserved, because of something done or said? Rev Dr Peter Trudinger
If you (or someone you know) are in need of support, you can call Lifeline on 131 114 or visit: www.nosecret.org.au
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