REACHING OUT: Michael Bishop, CEO of Central Highlands Healthcare.
REACHING OUT: Michael Bishop, CEO of Central Highlands Healthcare. Contributed

Seeking support for the region's youth

HE knows the crippling effect suicide can have on a family and a community.

Now Michael Bishop, CEO of Central Highlands Healthcare, is planning to harness the power and potential of people who want to help to provide a broad safety net of support for the region's youth.

Mr Bishop, who is also the CEO of Emerald GP Superclinic, this week said a meeting earlier in the month involving more than 40 representatives from schools, council, youth organisations, NGOs such as Anglicare, and Headspace resolved to do all they could to "make our young people safer”.

He said the region currently relied heavily on people from nearby cities such as Rockhampton to provide support services.

"I have lost friends to suicide and you never ever get over it and I wished I had been able to do more to stop them,” he said.

"It's devastating. It affects the whole community and it's a really big waste of opportunity.

"The recent deaths of young people who were loved by their family and friends has motivated many people in the community to want to do something.

"The issue that we face is that people get themselves into a terrible situation and they don't know who to turn to.”

Mr Bishop said the problems for regional Queenslanders were a lack of mental health services, a difficultly in recruiting and retaining people in rural areas and the lack of staff consistency from service providers.

He said the Central Highlands response to the issue of suicide prevention would be the #BigRural talent quest, which will be launched on March 16.

A campaign aimed at getting people involved, talking about the issue and raising money in the local area has already commenced.

Mr Bishop said he also wanted to establish a Headspace centre in Emerald.

"We've had a high ratio of suicides and attempted suicides and all of the people who passed away were in a situational crisis,” he said.

"That means they didn't have a serious chronic mental health illness the system was aware of.

"Most suicides are people with serious mental illness but all of our losses were from situational issues - it could be violence, financial problems, shame that something's not right or wrong.”

He said figures showed that one in five Australian have a serious mental health concern each year and 50per cent of the population will experience a mental health issue such as despair, depression or anxiety.

Mr Bishop said many young people were reliant on social media for personal connections.

"And they're not very good at expressing their emotions,” he said.

"People have lost the ability to communicate in words - emojis are not enough.

"My experience in mental health is that relationships are essential to support people when you get to the highs and lows of life.”

Mr Bishop said it is "absolutely critical” that people realise "it's okay to talk about the feeling that you're not okay”.

"I think it's the most important thing that people need to understand.”

He said #BigRural would be one way to engage people and he's aiming for Federal Government funding to facilitate further support and events.

"We're working on an immediate response that's outreach with a lot of subgroups in mind including a van that goes around and provides information on health issues including good health and mental health,” he said.

Mr Bishop plans to establish a parents and families group which would include a mentor project for young people.

"The whole of the project will allow our community to look after our young people. We're going to do lots to raise awareness for our young people and let them know they're cared for.

"People need to be more aware of the people around them - not the phone, not the iPad, but the people around them, especially people you care about.”

He wants to have a water van outside the pub on Friday and Saturday nights as well as create a safe space for young people to go to when they need.

A youth engagement group would be set up to allow youth representatives to co-design the approach across the region and schools would be encouraged to hold events or awareness days simultaneously to local events.

If you or someone you know is in a life-threatening emergency phone 000, or Lifeline 13 11 14 for 24-hour support.

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