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Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System

Personal story:

Louise Flynn

Louise Flynn is a psychologist and holds a Doctor of Philosophy. She has managed Jesuit Social Services’ Support After Suicide program since January 2005.

The suicide ‘postvention’ program supports people after someone important to them has ended their life. Last year, they directly assisted 964 children, young people and adults bereaved by suicide.

Most of the team are psychologists and social workers, but they also have more than 50 peer support volunteers who are actively involved in counselling and supporting partners, parents, siblings, men, children and young people.

It’s a very complex experience, losing someone to suicide, it’s also very prolonged; it takes a long time for people to kind of get on their feet again, and so we’re really trying to educate about those experiences.

Some of the people who we’ve met with have themselves experienced an earlier loss, a death by some other cause, and really felt that sense of being surrounded by people, and then when they’ve lost someone to suicide it’s a really stark difference, and so they often can be left more alone.

Louise said one of the things she learnt is that the mental health system is not helpful to people, particularly some of those in suicidal crisis. If it was more helpful, she said, ‘there would be some people who would not die’.

The Support After Suicide program has been operating since July 2004, and half the referrals come from Victoria Police. Louise said their day-to-day work is about suicide prevention and assisting people with their mental health and in their engagement in community life.

When someone has deliberately and intentionally ended their own life, it does result in a unique and difficult experience for those close to them.

… people I have worked with often say that they feel guilty, or they feel like they failed the person, or that they have let them down; they question whether they caused it or could have prevented it.

A person bereaved by suicide often has a relentless and distressing experience of trying to understand how it could have happened.

People I work with have told me that sometimes others in their social network avoid them, sometimes by crossing the street so as not to interact with them; that there is a silence around them in that people don’t talk about or mention the death or speak about the person who died.

Source: Interim Report, November 2019