Reflections on the International Association for Suicide Prevention

Samantha Gray

The opportunity came up from a lecturer asking if students would like to add to their portfolio.

The International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) were holding their World Congress on the Gold Coast.

It was a great opportunity to cover an international conference and would look great on the CV.

To me, it was much more.

I have known people who have died by suicide and truly believe in sharing and improving the prevention efforts.

What I actually got out of the work experience was way more than I had expected.

Initially the excitement of interviewing international delegates between symposiums and creating a media center was my main focus, but alas, Covid-19, border restrictions and quarantine legislation turned our exciting week of touching shoulders with industry experts into a week in my living room.

I was disappointed for sure but still wanted to assist in communicating this great cause.

When the organizers asked if I knew anyone else who would be willing to work for experience, I roped my best friend into covering the event with me.

A day’s work (from home) at the IASP World Congress

We made a list of speaker bios, Canva assets, interviewed keynote speakers for soundbites, and were able to create a hashtag trend around selfcare for during the online congress.

The hard and heavy subject matter was so far away in the week leading up the event that perhaps I didn’t take the organizer’s warnings and offers of support seriously.

It was fast-paced, busy, exciting, and even fun!

Day 1 started with Pecha Kucha presentations: with all the content we had created in advance this was easy going and we promoted the free event to our friends and classmates.

There was music, dancing, Disney references and talk of Superheroes.

My living room didn’t matter at all when we were having so much fun on our screens.

My friend and I pre-completed all expected Uni work to truly focus on the Congress, and with all my housemates away it seemed like nothing could go wrong.

We were excited and revved up to help and share the information to those who needed it.

I just didn’t expect that it would be me.

Working from 7am till 9pm was the sacrifice for this amazing opportunity, and our Comms team manager was having to do that from a different time zone!

We were so lucky to have such a fun group of people leading us through the Congress.

Day 2 had a session that spoke to the Indigenous and First Nations experience of suicide and lived experience.

I found myself seeing and feeling all the emotions, following the stories of loss and anger to hope and recovery.

We missed many symposiums as we had to split up, focus on hot topics, and conduct podcast recordings about the previous days.

An online iASP session

But still, I found that the quotes I was grabbing were like the speakers were talking directly to me

As a young adult, I feel the pressure to be who all the different people in my life expect me to be.

The successful adult my parents raised me to be, the hard-working and dedicated student, the dependable employee, the fun and supportive friend, the caring and understanding girlfriend, and still as healthy and fit as my Gran used to be at my age!

It sounded like the case studies in the conference presentations were just like me: one person with multiple pressures telling them who/what they are meant to be. 

These little sparks of recognition turned into full fireworks Day 3 of the Congress.

I felt myself yelling ‘YES’ at my computer when Daniel Coppersmith called out the industry for having an overemphasis on risk vs resilience and demanded more constructive future steps and information.

I actually said ‘Me too’ in my coverage of Elizabeth Paton when she said: “Participants spoke about wanting to see more stories of hope and recovery.”

I felt called out when Dr Cathy Brennan said, “Many feel unable to talk to family and friends in fear of being judged.

“They also fear being ‘freaks’ by telling people how they feel.”

How many times had I not said anything in fear of being told I’m being silly?

How many times had I stayed silent?

Telling myself there are so many worse things in the world than my stress and sadness.

And then I heard Professor Dinesh Bhugra’s keynote on loneliness…

It was like he saw me.

He spoke of burnout being physical, emotional and mental.

How the pressures put on young adults were all of the above.

“Burnout is feeling hopeless, helpless and feeling trapped,” he said.

“We expect them to be empathic and human but to be professional and be detached.

“You can’t have it both ways.”

Professor Bhugra explained that, of all the pressures experienced by students, relationships were identified as the highest.

And he is so right: parents, friends, colleagues…

How do you turn to those closest to you when they are contributing to your hurt?

Be fit and relax.

Be social but work hard.

Earn money and be studious.

It’s very isolating.

He went on: “There is no need to be ashamed, we are all humans.”

Kristina Mossgraber said, “No one’s pain is less than another’s.”

Being acknowledged, being told not to be ashamed for feeling like a failure was liberating.

At 8am the next morning, I got to interview a speaker I had looked up to since compiling her bio.

Dr Sally Spencer-Thomas spoke of owning your truth, feeling the feelings, accepting your WHOLE being.

Work comes home and home goes to work.

As one individual, we cannot compartmentalise in the way the world has told us to.

And that was me in a nutshell.

I had thought that as a student I would be external to the iASP Congress, just working to cover the event and promote the speakers.

Yet it had become so much more than that.

Here were hundreds of knowledgeable adults who have all been touched by depression, suicide and self-harm in some way and all striving for a brighter future.

It was inspiring.

It gave me hope.

Hope I didn’t even know I needed. 

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