While hospital Emergency Departments (ED) provide exceptional care during a medical crisis, they rarely can offer the quiet, compassionate sanctuary that people need when experiencing suicidal thoughts or emotional distress.
NSW Health’s Safe Haven initiative recognises this fact and aims to provide a calm, culturally-sensitive and non-clinical alternative – a warmer, less daunting place to turn to for personalised support from peer-support workers and other health professionals.
Where an ED may only assess and refer, Safe Havens have the additional capacity to further explore the visitor’s experiences while they’re there.
In recent months, four Safe Havens have opened in the LHDs of South Eastern Sydney, Illawarra, Far West and Hunter New England respectively. Eventually, across the State, 20 services will be operational under the three-year, $25 million NSW Government funding package.
Medicare isn’t required, nor are referrals or appointments necessary – an important factor when data shows that many people who’ve died by suicide hadn't consulted a health service within the prior 12 months.
Safe Haven St George coordinator Max Simensen explains: “Safe Haven is unique in being non clinical and also predominantly staffed by people with a lived experience…people who understand the experience.
“We've had some guests come back pretty consistently, multiple times, so it just depends on what they need in that situation. Hopefully, with promotion, more people can be aware of us before they get into a crisis.”
One of guests at St George is Kamara, who has lived with mental illness for 27 years and previously connected with various community and in-patient mental health services. She describes the new space as “safe, non-judgemental and welcoming”.
“For example, when I was at Safe Haven one day, I experienced a vivid flashback, where I had high anxiety and dissociation…I was supposed to leave to go to another commitment but I wasn’t able to ensure I would be safe from myself,” Kamara says.
“With support from staff, I cancelled the commitment and stayed at Safe Haven, joining in activities like playing UNO with other guests.
“I left feeling safe and was able to get through the night. This service has prevented me from going to Emergency or Mental Health units for suicidal ideations. It is like no other service I have used.”
The Safe Haven initiative is based on a model operating in the UK, which has achieved a 33 per cent reduction in admissions to mental health inpatient units. At a local level, LHDs have also consulted widely with stakeholders, including those with lived experience, to tailor their care delivery to their own communities.
Safe Haven is not a medical service. Those in immediate danger should dial 000. 24/7 crisis support services are also available:
- Lifeline 13 11 14
- Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467
- NSW Mental Health Line 1800 011 511
Related news coverage:
- Two new suicide prevention services open in St George and Sutherland Shire - https://bit.ly/3iedmZq
- Safe Haven to open in Wollongong to provide quiet space for people in crisis - https://ab.co/3vHhZyV
- New Safe Haven in Wollongong for people in suicidal distress to take refuge - https://bit.ly/3uLRze6
- New Safe Haven service for Illawarra and Shoalhaven to help those in suicidal crisis - https://bit.ly/3iarT8k