Health hub goes online
HER own personal experiences have driven Mandy Melhuish to create an online hub where Emerald residents can discuss suicide and reach out for help.
Former Emerald resident Ms Melhuish, who moved to New Zealand earlier this month, said this week she was operating the forum remotely with the support of Central Highlands Regional Council and hoped it would empower people of all ages to discuss suicide and seek support.
She said the group, which she began in January and is called Central Highlands Suicide Awareness, has a Facebook page @CHsupportsYOU.
Ms Melhuish said she created the public page because she believes the community needs a platform to update and inform locals of resources and support available in their area for suicide prevention and mental health.
"There are many people in our community who have been directly impacted by suicide but do not discuss it due to the shame and stigma,”she said.
"It is time for us to come together to empower our community to feel comfortable to talk about suicide and reach out for the support they need.”
Ms Melhuish said personal experience had inspired her to create the safe space online.
"As a teenager I remember going through a really hard time in high school and whilst everything may have looked fine from the outside, on the inside I felt so isolated, afraid to reach out for help and scared that no one would listen to me,” she said.
"I had thoughts of taking my life daily. I spent a lot of time on social media but if I had maybe seen a particular post on support for suicide, a hotline number or a simple quote just maybe I might have reached out and got the support I needed instead of suppressing it.”
Ms Melhuish said there were plenty of support services available but people were not always aware they exist.
She said people are uncomfortable discussing suicide and often felt isolated from their communities, while their families, guardians and community members were also often left feeling as if nothing was being done.
"I want people to know that they are not alone,” she said. "There are people that will listen. There are services that can meet in person or speak over the phone. There are hotline numbers that are anonymous. I want people to know that their community supports them.”
People have the option to 'message' the page if they are requesting particular information and someone will message them back and, while Ms Melhuish does not offer counselling, she can direct people to someone who does.
"I grew up in Emerald and it breaks my heart that the youth feel like there is no way out,” she said. "I also know that it's not just our youth, it's both male and female of all ages that can feel isolated or who maybe can not shake a bad day.”
She said that sometimes reaching out for support was the hardest step as it confirmed to a person that they needed help.
"We need to be advocates for showing people that it is okay to reach out and to be honest about the situation or feelings and emotions you are feeling so someone can support you through your experience.”
She hoped her page would empower others in the community to also step up and fundraise, create events or inspire conversations about the issue in the community.
If you or someone you know is in a life-threatening emergency phone 000, or Lifeline 13 11 14 for 24-hour support.