17 February 2022

'Life saving' Safe Haven in Wagga Wagga aims to support those in suicidal distress

| Albert McKnight
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Bronnie Taylor

Minister for Mental Health Bronnie Taylor officially opens the Wagga Wagga Safe Haven on Wednesday. Photo: Bronnie Taylor MLC Facebook.

WARNING: Readers are advised this article discusses suicide.

Wagga Wagga suffers from a higher number of deaths by suicide than any other region in the state’s south-west, but a new service aims to support locals living in the Riverina who are experiencing suicidal thoughts or distress.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare monitors statistics on suicide and says more than 3000 suicides occur every year in the country.

It says there were 80 such deaths in the Wagga Wagga region between 2015 and 2019, significantly more than in any of the surrounding regions.

The Wagga Wagga Safe Haven was officially opened on Wednesday (16 February), although it began operation last September and is part of an innovative trial.

Minister for Mental Health Bronnie Taylor said the Safe Haven was a safe, supportive and welcoming environment offering an alternative to presenting to a busy emergency department when people were feeling distressed or suicidal.

“There is no doubt in my mind that this Safe Haven will be not only be life-changing but life-saving for many people,” she said.

“We know that if we can provide this support to someone before they are hospitalised the likelihood of further suicidal behaviours is significantly reduced.

“The Safe Haven provides a home-like and calm environment to talk through your worries or redirect your thoughts with carefully chosen activities.”

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Lauren Demaj, a peer worker at the Safe Haven, said as a person with lived experience she understood the anxiety felt by people who needed to seek help.

“In the co-design process, we wanted to make sure everyone feels welcomed, invited in, and offered options to make them comfortable – whether they want to have a one-on-one chat or just spend some time in the sensory space,” she said.

NSW Health says 20 Safe Havens are being established across the state and described them as places where people can talk to a peer support worker who may have experienced what they are going through or to a mental health professional.

Wagga also has a new Suicide Prevention Outreach Team, which is a mobile team that provides care to people in suicidal crisis at or near their homes.

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The Safe Haven is free and no referral is required. It is at 7 Yathong St, Wagga Wagga and is open from 2 pm to 9 pm, Friday to Sunday. You can contact it on 0497 422 937 or [email protected].

People can be referred to the outreach team by a mental health service, the NSW Mental Health Line and local community organisations.

The NSW Government has invested $25.1 million into the Safe Haven initiative as well as $21.35 million in the Suicide Prevention Outreach Teams.

If you or someone you know needs support, you can contact:

  • Lifeline’s 24-hour crisis support line – 13 11 14
  • Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467
  • Kids Helpline – 1800 551 800 or kidshelpline.com.au
  • MensLine Australia – 1300 789 978 or mensline.org.au

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