Ten years ago, Brian Lowe was a student volunteer at Youthline. Today he is the manager of Youthline Otago and was recently named the LifeKeepers awards* supreme winner for his outstanding contribution to preventing suicide within his community.
Lowe believes today’s young people are under increased pressures relating to societal expectations, technology, social media, and job opportunities.
“It is so much tougher out there in ways I think that we never really understood when it was happening. We didn’t really anticipate the impact of social media, we didn’t know the impact of the changing world environment, it’s changing so fast and I think we’re seeing the results of those changes coming through now.
“I think there has been a group who didn’t really get the support or the education necessarily, the knowledge they needed to cope with the changing world.”
Lowe made the decision to switch his career to the mental health sector in 2010 and brought a background in finance and marketing to Youthline – which is a collaboration of youth development organisations across the country offering counselling and mentoring by phone, text, skype and other formats.
Since then he has supported individuals and communities, trained volunteers and led the development of new policies designed to improve the capacity and response of Youthline to people at risk of suicide.
While he has found his experience in this field “really rewarding”, working in such an emotionally demanding role can take its toll. Therefore Lowe believes it is important for people who work in mental health to access the support systems available, such as supervision, peer support and generally having a good network of people to speak to.
“I think it takes a really good sense of self awareness to understand the impact the work has on an individual – as well as myself, any counsellor or any social worker or anyone in the field,” he says.
“There’s a huge responsibility to make sure you look after yourself. People do burnout in this industry, in the sector, in this field. There’s a lot of need, there’s a lot of things to do, and there’s always more to do.
“I think one has to really make sure that one paces oneself, looks after self, holds good boundaries,and understands where personal and professional limits are. There’s only so much you can do, you’ve got to switch your phone off. No matter what you just can’t go 24/7.”
Two steps to help prevent suicide in your community
There are two main steps people can take to help with suicide prevention in their own communities, Brian says. The first is to shift the focus from asking people in need to reach out for help and instead encourage others in the community to be aware of mental health issues.
“I tend to think that it’s very tough for people who are in that space to reach out for support. Sometimes there’s a lot they’re going through so my take on it is it’s really up to the community … not being experts but knowing enough knowledge to know that at the end of the day what these people really need is someone to talk to,” he says.
“In New Zealand, for example, we always say ‘how are you?’ as a greeting, you really want people to just say ‘fine’, it’s really just a form of hello, right? But I think what we need to do when we ask that question is to really ask people how they are.
“If someone’s actually gone withdrawn or angry or they’ve changed demeanor or you just get the sense that something’s not right, to actually really enquire after them and ask if they’re okay and give them that time and space and energy to actually let them answer.”
The second step is for people who are providing support to access help themselves by knowing where to get assistance and advice.
“It’s just those two steps … we actually need people out there – parents, friends, workmates, flatmates – to be able to do two things. One is to be able to listen and number two, knowing what to do. A lot of people do talk about mental first aid and I think it’s like that as well – if you can do CPR, you can do suicide assessment/prevention.”
*12 people were nominated for the second annual LifeKeepers Awards for their outstanding contribution to preventing suicide in their community and last month Brian Lowe was presented the Supreme Award for 2018. Lifekeepers is a free national suicide prevention training programme delivered by Le Va, an organisation that specialises in Pasifika mental health and wellbeing.
WHERE TO GET HELP:
If you are worried about your or someone else’s mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.
OR IF YOU NEED TO TALK TO SOMEONE ELSE:
- DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757
• KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• LIFELINE:0800 543 354 or 09 5222 999 within Auckland (24/7)
• NEED TO TALK?Free call or text 1737 (24/7)
• SAMARITANS – 0800 726 666
• SUICIDE CRISIS HELPLINE: 0508 828 865 (24/7)
• WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
There are lots of places to get support. For others, click here.