As dusk descends on Broken Hill, unofficial capital of the NSW Outback, the spotlight for mental health services switches to a newly launched care initiative called Suicide Prevention Outreach Teams…SPOT, for short.
Response teams comprising a peer worker and clinician are ready to work. They’re mobile and fully accessible outside regular hours, which means more at-risk people in the Far West LHD community receive help more quickly – where they live and feel comfortable.
Sarah Koronis, a psychology-trained clinician working with SPOT at Broken Hill, says the service has already made a significant impact since opening in March this year.
“The feedback from consumers and families is that they definitely see the initiative as being beneficial,” Sarah says. “We’re also seeing fewer presentations to the Emergency Department and use of other services has reduced.
“We’re also capturing people who would otherwise have been reluctant to engage but really do need support.”
Referrals commonly come from the ED at Broken Hill Base Hospital or from police and ambulance officers. Otherwise, the local Mental Health team can refer people who would benefit from after-hours care.
SPOT will also tie in with another Far West LHD initiative, a café-style Safe Haven, that’s opening shortly in Broken Hill.
“Even some of the consumers we’ve seen in SPOT will benefit from the Safe Haven pathway as another alternative to visiting the Emergency Department. I think the two models will work really well together,” Sarah adds.
Sarah herself has lived and worked in Broken Hill for six years, after moving from her home town of Mildura. She enjoys the sense of community and camaraderie inherent to the remote mining town, but also notes that the region is not without its challenges.
“There has been a number of young adolescents and adults presenting with self-harm and suicidal ideation, and there’s also an array of issues with drought, isolation, substance use and trauma,” Sarah explains.
“The big thing with SPOT is that I work alongside peer workers who have lived experience with suicide. They have that place of commonality when people are experiencing or recovering from situational distress or suicidal crisis.
“We actually want the service to be peer-led, so it feels less clinical. People hopefully will feel more comfortable being supported on the journey of recovery, and really the clinician is there to provide extra support in case any imminent risk shows up.”
SPOT services are also being established in health districts right across the State, with $21.35 million being allocated under the Towards Zero Suicide funding framework.
Feeling right at home
Sophie (not her real name) is a 17 year old who currently lives with her mother but has led a troubled life. She’s been known to Mental Health services in Broken Hill since her early teens, having had multiple suicide attempts and gaining little relief from medications.
From June 2020 to March 2021, Sophie averaged one inpatient admission per month and numerous presentations to the ED in suicidal crisis. In early March, she was referred to SPOT by her Mental Health case manager.
Visiting Sophie that evening at home, the SPOT clinician and peer worker supported Sophie to complete a safety plan, and Sophie also verbalised her future goals. She reported positive feedback to her case manager.
SPOT then arranged with Sophie to pick her up from home or a friend’s place to get a coffee and catch up. A good rapport was established with the peer worker, who was able to validate Sophie’s experiences.
In late March, Sophie requested to be picked up from her mother’s house – her father had asked her to leave. During the visit, Sophie noted that her usual behaviour following an argument was to self-harm, and she hadn’t done so on this occasion – a significant step forward.
The SPOT team continues to help Sophie and are supporting her goal of living independently. Sophie has not had an admission or presentation to the ED since.