28 May 2019

Canberra nurses raise thousands for suicide awareness and support

| Emma Davidson
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Britt Shephard and Shannon Narracott in front of sponsors logos at the Suicide Awareness Ball, smiling at camera

Britt Shephard and Shannon Narracott, organisers of the Suicide Awareness Ball on 4 May 2019. Photos: Rosevear Photography.

On a cool autumn afternoon, Shannon Narracott had just come off a night shift as a nurse at Canberra Hospital when she and Britt Shephard, also an emergency department nurse, met me to talk about the Suicide Awareness Ball held on Saturday 4 May.

They had seen people coming in to the emergency department in an acute mental health crisis and wanted to raise awareness of how common suicide is in our community.

Shannon and Britt explained that when someone presents to emergency with a mental health crisis, they are triaged and put in a bed in the emergency ward along with everyone else needing emergency medical care. This means they are dealing with bright lights, noise, and the stress of being surrounded by other people facing their own acute healthcare crises. They talked about providing care to people in crisis situations as the catalyst for their decision to take action in their off-work hours.

“There’s a lot of good stuff out there, like RUOK, a lot of bigger movements regarding mental health, and that’s terrific. But in the acute setting, and from a professional nurse’s point of view, we just weren’t aware of the prevalence of (suicide),” Ms Narracott said.

“The numbers of people coming in with suicidal ideation… we could either say OK, just try and look after these patients, or we could try and do something about it, spreading awareness about suicide,” Ms Shephard said.

Black Dog Institute, who benefited from funds raised at the Suicide Awareness Ball at the Hellenic Club in Canberra, report that suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians aged 15 to 44 years. The suicide rate among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders is twice the rate for non-Indigenous people in Australia.

“It was interesting to see… that females have more attempts despite more males dying from suicide attempts,” Ms Narracott said.

The two set themselves a target of $15,000 to raise for Black Dog Institute, and set to work organising a ball with dinner, dancing, and a charity auction. Their aim was not just to raise funds, but more importantly to raise awareness of a subject people often find difficult to talk about. They wanted an event that was affordable for people like themselves, with a nurse’s salary, not just for those on a high income.

Johnathan Davis descending stairs from a stage with a microphone in hand

Johnathan Davis, auctioneer for the charity auction at the Suicide Awareness Ball 2019.

Within eleven days of tickets going on sale, they had sold out and had to increase the event’s capacity. Many of their hospital colleagues came to the event, talking with over three hundred people from across the Canberra community about the prevalence of suicide. The event raised $41,598.16 for Black Dog Institute.

Suicide Awareness Ball 2019 at Hellenic Club in Canberra on 4 May.

In addition to the support of their emergency department colleagues, Britt and Shannon gave a glowing review to the Hellenic Club of Canberra for helping them organise the inaugural event.

Shannon Narracott and Britt Shephard raised “tens of thousands” of dollars for Black Dog Institute at the Suicide Awareness Ball. Photo: Supplied.

When asked what they would like to do next, Britt and Shannon talked about the importance of policies and programs for better care and support for people suffering mental health crises and with suicidal ideation or self-harm behaviour. This includes care within hospital settings, as well as connections to community care and support.

The dynamic duo are thinking about their next event, and would love to hear from organisations or individuals who can help them make it happen. If you’d like to help, contact Shannon Narracott or Britt Shephard through the 2019 event’s Facebook page.

If you need crisis support you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14, or the suicide callback service on 1300 659 467 for professional 24/7 telephone and online counselling. You can also seek support from Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.

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