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New program to support young people impacted by suicide

Suicide is the leading cause of death for young people under 25 years in Australia, representing 31 per cent of all deaths in young people aged 15‐17 years. More than 10 million Australians of all ages know someone who has been impacted by suicide. Yet it remains a subject that people find difficult to talk about.

Family support agency, Mackillop Family Services (MacKillop) has a long history of supporting young people to cope with change, loss and grief through the highly successful Seasons for Growth programs for children, young people and adults. Previous evaluations have highlighted the value of the program for early intervention and postvention work with young people in communities impacted by suicide.

Building on key insights from more than 350,000 participants over the past 26 years, MacKillop has collaborated with the Seasons for Growth author, Professor Anne Graham AO at Southern Cross University, along with a high level national advisory group, to develop Seasons for Life.

Professor Anne Graham AO states that the project integrates the best available evidence around suicide prevention and postvention.

“Seasons for Life will build the capacity of high school leaders, staff and parents across Australia in understanding the impacts of change loss and grief more broadly, as well as following suicide and other traumatic loss events.”

Bianca Bennett, a school psychologist, knows first‐hand how important it is to support young people to recover from significant and sudden losses. She has assisted young people following the deaths of two students by suicide and the loss of a student in the 2019 volcano eruption in New Zealand.

Bianca continues to support students going through major life experiences as a Companion in the Seasons for Growth program.

“Many students are excited to leave school, but face emotions that are often confusing and overwhelming. Many of our young people report high levels of fear in relation to adjusting to the loss of a safe space, people to talk to, loss of routine and structure and guidance. Programs and group work to assist with this major transition can equip them with much needed skills to make a successful transition processing adjustment and change and setting them up for success,” says Bianca.

MacKillop’s Program Manager, Fiona McCallum, says Seasons for Life will provide schools with a roadmap to establish wrap‐around support for students and develop resources within their local community.

“This program, which is provided free to Australian secondary schools, will support young people in small peer groups to develop knowledge and skills to manage change, loss and grief. It will strengthen the knowledge and skills of the family and school staff directly supporting young people.

“The funding support from the Department of Health and Aged Care is a game changer in ensuring every high school across Australia that might benefit from the Seasons for Life and Seasons for Growth programs will be able to access these along with training and ongoing support. We will work closely with other relevant agencies, such as Be You/Headspace to ensure the best possible outcomes for these school communities”.

The Seasons for Life program is funded by the Australian Department of Health’s National Suicide Prevention Leadership and Support Program, overseen by a national Advisory Group and will be evaluated by an external university partner. Seasons for Growth was created by Prof Anne Graham, Centre for Children and Young People, Southern Cross University; and is provided by MacKillop Family Services.