ABC WORLD TODAY AUDIO | Residents make sun shine in Hay by AndrewPearson
Residents make the sun shine in Hay
TRANSCRIPT OF THE WORLD TODAY STORY:
ASHLEY HALL: Australians from country towns tend to see themselves as a resilient lot, but in the western New South Wales town of Hay, that resilience has been sorely tested.
After six suicides in 18 months the town's residents are confronting the issue and asking for help from the state and federal governments, as Melinda Hayter reports from Hay.
(Music: Friend in Me)
MELINDA HAYTER: Hay in western New South Wales is known for its treeless plains, merino sheep and stunning night skies.
You don't often drive down the main street of this town of 3,000 residents without getting a smile and a wave, but that friendly demeanour masks some troubling events of late.
In the last 18 months there's been six suicides. Hay Shire Councillor Peter Dwyer says on average one person every year for the last 20 has taken their own life.
PETER DWYER: When something like this happens, it just affects everybody, absolutely right across the board, you know. We just seem to be catching our breath lately and someone else completes suicide.
MELINDA HAYTER: Anecdotally local residents say the suicides have been for a number of reasons; financial problems, relationship issues, long-term illness. It's also affected people across a variety of ages.
A youth suicide last year propelled Peter Dwyer to take action. He made contact with a suicide prevention group based in Sheffield, Tasmania, and from there, the Hay Community Action for Suicide Elimination group or CASE was established, training local residents to look for mental health warning signs.
So far almost 20 people have been trained.
Jan Eames is known around these parts for offering a cup of tea and a conversation from the cool of her air-conditioned kitchen and says she was one of the first Hay residents to sign up.
JAN EAMES: Hay is need of help. The community members - I think people are becoming very afraid of why it's happening. We're actually here to steer people in the right direction.
If they're contemplating suicide or their moods are really down and out, what our group actually does is not counsel, but to direct people in the right direction like medical help, Lifeline. We can give them those numbers and do that but we don't have the skills or the training to be counsellors.
MELINDA HAYTER: CASE will soon run a second round of one-day intervention workshops, and in the next few weeks will provide specialist youth training at the Hay War Memorial High School.
Peter Dwyer has a big vision.
PETER DWYER: Eventually, hopefully, our goal is to train anywhere up to 200 people throughout our community. Just to be aware. You know, it's about mate helping mate, it's just about keeping an eye out in your social network of people who may be, you know, just suffering a bit.
MELINDA HAYTER: CASE took a big hit earlier this month. One of Peter Dwyer's fellow shire councillors and a good mate completed suicide. Business shut down in Hay, as close to 300 residents attended the funeral. It's made CASE more determined than before.
PETER DWYER: Make it a national thing, you know. More suicide awareness, more training, you know just more mental health counsellors out there as well. I'd really like to see the state and federal governments to come on board and also the health system as well.
The more people we get into this field, the better we'll all be.
MELINDA HAYTER: Local mental health officer Nicola Barrie agrees.
NICOLA BARRIE: I think there's a lot more work to be done, especially around prevention. There seems to be a lot more money needed to go into generalist counselling services and I think it's very difficult to recruit those sorts of health professionals to rural areas.
Whilst the people that are working in those rural areas are probably doing the best they can with their limited resources, it's an area or an issue that needs to be addressed in some manner.
MELINDA HAYTER: The group is starting to have an impact. Jan Eames recently spoke with a young man contemplating suicide.
JAN EAMES: That was pretty scary, but by the time I'd finished, I just felt good that I had actually done something and this person had said yeah, thankyou. It was a long session, but I think very well worth it. Hopefully that person is still on the right track and I will keep in touch with that person as well.
MELINDA HAYTER: Peter Dwyer says local residents need to know they've got a friend in Hay.
PETER DWYER: We're all concerned, we're all mates, we're all in this together. You know, if one person's doing it hard, most of the time everyone's doing it hard.
We can't beat it individually; we need a group effort here.
(Music: Friend in Me.)
ASHLEY HALL: Melinda Hayter.
ABC - The World Today - 22nd February, 2012.