A COMPREHENSIVE support for people grappling with suicide death is a service Kristy Steenhuis has been crying out for in Ballarat for years.
For more than a decade, Ms Steenhuis and a band of volunteers have worked to fill the gaps with Survivors of Suicide helping best guide bereaved family and friends to the supports they need - even if just being there to listen.
Now Ms Steenhuis has been called up to lead Australia's leading suicide postvention body StandBy Support After Suicide, in setting up supports across western Victoria in partnership with Wellways.
Seventeen years have passed since Ms Steenhuis lost her husband Matt to suicide. Ms Steenhuis was 28 years old with two young children, aged five and 10.
She said a lot of people were unsure how to react or reach out, so instead tended to avoid her, even crossing to the other side of the street. These were still stories she was hearing from people today.
A desperate need for support was why Ms Steenhuis launched Survivors of Suicide. The community-based service dropped off during the pandemic and Ms Steenhuis was proud to offer a free wrap-around support with government funded service StandBy.
I know what it's like to be in that washing machine feeling where your brain just doesn't have the capacity to process everything. Suicide bereavement is more complex- Kristy Steenhuis, StanBy Support After Suicide coordinator for western Victoria
"I know what it's like to be in that washing machine feeling where your brain just doesn't have the capacity to process everything. Suicide bereavement is more complex than other forms of bereavement," Ms Steenhuis said.
"Research shows people with lived experience of suicide bereavement are more effective in peer-supporting others. I can say 'this is your time and space and story, but just so you know, I've sat through that'."
StandBy can offer immediate in-home support to work with people in a place they feel comfortable and without judgement.
Ms Steenhuis said the service can help people navigate anything from how to feed all visitors coming to the house through to advocating for the right financial or government supports.
"Nothing we can do is going to take the pain away, but we can ease the burden," Ms Steenhuis said.
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The organisation also works closely with Victoria Police and other agencies to identify perceived impacts a death can have on community groups. If needed, StandBy can help action support responses or share resources.
For every death by suicide, Ms Steenhuis said the conservative estimate was at least 135 others were significantly impacted - and with more than 3000 deaths by suicide each year, the toll quickly grew.
In Ballarat, the male suicide stubbornly sits about 30 per cent higher than the national average.
Ms Steenhuis said the focus was on community pathways to care and this was why local knowledge could help amid grief. The support service offers follow-up phone calls for two years to help connect people into existing support networks.
There tended to be a point when family and friends calling around eased, Ms Steenhuis said, but it was clear loved ones needed longer, ongoing support.
StandBy offers 24-hour support via its hotline 1300 727 247, which is directed to Ms Steenhuis as a support coordinator during business hours.
More details: standbysupport.com.au.
Crisis support is also available, but not limited to Lifeline on 13 11 14.
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