Creating change through lived experience of suicide

Many people within our communities have a lived experience of suicide - some have experienced thoughts of suicide or survived a suicide attempt; some are carers to others who experience suicidal crisis; and some have lost a loved one by suicide. While each individual has a deeply unique and personal journey, their experiences can have a transformative effect on how we collectively understand and prevent suicide.

After my own personal experiences with suicide, I was driven by a deep motivation to create positive change. This meaning making mantra is echoed by countless others directly impacted by suicide as they share their story for altruistic purposes, ‘if I can just stop one other person from feeling this pain it will be worth it’.

Over the past decade, I’ve experienced and witnessed the profound impact of lived experience advocacy. The generous and courageous sharing of stories has shone a spotlight on changes needed in our systems and society, and focused collective energy in meaningful and powerful ways. And personally, the advocacy journey can become a significant strength, bringing opportunity for growth and healing.

But suicide is a complex issue and stigma and judgement is common. There are risks, both to the individual and to their audience in talking about suicide. If not done safely, the language used and information shared can unintentionally harm the speaker themselves and listeners who may be vulnerable to suicide.

Since its inception, the Illawarra Shoalhaven Suicide Prevention Collaborative has centred the insight and experiential wisdom of people with a lived experience of suicide in the development and implementation of collective suicide prevention activities across the region. The lived experience voice is very much woven into the fabric of how and who the Collaborative is.

In May, the Collaborative will be offering a training program that supports people with lived experience of suicide to learn about suicide prevention and reflect on what they can bring to the work. Delivered by Roses in the Ocean, Australia’s leading lived experience of suicide organisation, the 2-day ‘Our Voice in Action’ training will help build readiness, capacity and skills. It will provide an opportunity for people to explore their lived experience in a supported space and understand how experiential wisdom can be combined with other skills for greatest influence and impact.

At the Collaborative, lived experience members receive ongoing guidance from our Lived Experience Coordinator, Mark Ellis, in using their unique insight in the work of the Collaborative. If you would like to learn more about the training, please visit the website


Thank you to the Illawarra Mercury for inviting Jo Riley, Executive Member of the Illawarra Shoalhaven Suicide Prevention Collaborative to share her thoughts for this opinion piece.