THE devastation of losing her own child and a desire to ensure others don’t experience the same loss in their lives has spurred Lisa Dowie to make a difference in suicide prevention.
The Karrinyup resident said her teenage son Keegan was a fun, generous 18-year-old who had gone through a “rough patch” in 2014 after moving to Perth but had shown no other sign of mental ill health.
He was completing an electrical apprenticeship through Tafe, had a night job and a passion for DJ-ing.
On the day before he took his own life in October 2015, Keegan was laid up in bed with tonsillitis.
“The night before, I gave him a kiss and cuddle like I’d normally do and gave him his dinner because he was unwell,” Ms Dowie said.
“I didn’t realise that was going to be the last time that I’d see my son alive.
“I wish I would have known that he was thinking these thoughts, I just didn’t realise.
“After Keegan took his own life I learned afterwards that he had given away his prized DJ decks to friends, and that was in preparation for taking his own life.
“I didn’t know that was a sign.
“Friends or families who see their children doing something unusual like that, it could be a bit of an alarm bell and maybe you need to ask the question are you okay.
“I know I would have done that had I known.”
Ms Dowie is one of six parents who have formed a Youth Focus Carer Reference Group to ensure the organisation’s support for parents and carers remains relevant.
She said the group would operate to identify unmet needs, access to funding and to ensure money is channeled to the right areas to reduce the number of unnecessary deaths.
In her opinion, better community education was vital.
“Educating people to know that it’s okay not to have the answers but to at least know some of the signs,” she said.
“Then they can lead people in the right direction and point them to Youth Focus or other organisations that can provide the counselling services and other programs that give a holistic approach.
“There’s just too much suicide happening in our society and we need to be able to find a way to prevent this, so people like myself aren’t having to grieve for our children and so people who are suffering from depression, anxiety and suicidal supports can go to services who can help them get through because there is a way through it.”
“It’s alarming that it’s increasing and clearly we need some funding.
“If we don’t get serious about this and we don’t put more into it we are not going to see a decline.
Youth Focus Community Engagement general manger Chris Harris said there had been a slight reduction in the number of young West Australians who took their own life in 2017 compared to 2016, but losing 51 people in the 15 to 24 age group was still unacceptable.
“We need to recognise that this is a tragedy. We also need to recognise that these are preventable deaths,” he said.
“We need to rethink how we provide services and we need to rethink how we involve people like Lisa and families and young people in finding those solutions.
“How we ensure that young people get what they need at the right time is an imperative.”
He welcomed the announcement of increased Federal funding and said it was important to rethink the approach to suicide prevention.
“One of the things we know is that community engagement is integral in terms of reducing suicide,” he said.
“For many of the young people that we see – and what the data indicates is that – they want to feel more confident that the people around them are confident of supporting them.”
Mr Harris echoed the call to fund greater education for all people who could be part of a person’s support network, including families, GPs, sport coaches and importantly, school friends.
“We need to look at getting mental health in the school curriculum from K to 12,” he said.
“It’s essential that we’re not stood here in 12 months having the same conversation. Now is the time to take responsibility as a State and as a community and to act so that when we are here in 12 months we can confidently report a reduction in these numbers.
“As a West Australian we need our community members to know that we need them, that they are valued and that we miss them when they are not here.”