OFFICIAL LAUNCH MARKS START OF VITAL COMMUNITY CAMPAIGN

It’s a campaign which has won a national award, sparks interest every year and continues to grow. But the most important thing about Grapevine Group’s annual Be Suicide Alert This Christmas campaign is the fact it can save lives.

That is why campaign founder and Grapevine Group vice president Debbie Knight had no trouble finding a group of our region’s most prolific community identities to step up and take the lead on the issue.

“This campaign has been a part of our focus in Mackay region for the past six years,” Ms Knight said.

“Each year it gets more attention and slowly but surely we are reaching more people – and that, in turn, can save lives”.

Based largely on a social media campaign starting December 1 and featuring memes encouraging kindness in the Christmas spirit, as well as vital tips to help people know and identify the 16 signs of suicide risk, the campaign is designed to reach a wide and diverse group in the community.

Grapevine Group president Laurence Manning said this year the campaign had expanded to include video messages from the community’s key leaders. He thanked each of the leaders for their involvement as well as Jo Shanks and her Run For MI Life team, who had been a strong supporter of the campaign – and of Grapevine Group.

“To have this level of support from leaders across the full spectrum of our community is vital in getting this important message across,” Mr Manning said.

“We know Christmas is a high-risk time of the year and as such identified the need for an effective campaign which would make people stop and take notice – and, in turn, be educated about suicide and the risk factors.

“Grapevine Group has worked hard, alongside other organisations in this space, to get people talking about mental health, mental illness and suicide risk and prevention.

“We are breaking down stigmas and we are getting through. But there is still a long way to go.

“For us, it is all about giving the people of the Mackay, Isaac and Whitsunday communities the chance to be a part of the solution. ”

The campaign is working. Last year, via the Grapevine Group’s then 7,800-strong Facebook page, the campaign achieved a reach of more than 73,000 – extending throughout the Mackay region and beyond.

Mackay Regional Council Mayor Greg Williamson was one community leader touched by the reach and importance of the campaign.

Cr Williamson said as a community we needed to raise the level of awareness for those who were struggling at this time of year.

“If we do this as a community, we will all come out better for it,” he said.

“Christmas is a fantastic time of the year and everybody looks forward to it, but there are some people in our community who really struggle around Christmas and New Year.”

They are sentiments echoed by Mackay Police Inspector Ian Haughton.

“Unfortunately, this time of year challenges some people with their thoughts and processes,” Insp Haughton said.

“If your friend, your family or your colleagues are struggling we are asking you to help them, give them some support and point them in the right direction.

“There are 16 warning signs. Please become aware of those signs.

“We want a safe and happy New Year for everybody.”

Adding her support for the campaign, Mackay Hospital and Health Service Chief Executive Jo Whitehead said everyone had a role to play in looking out for each other, especially when it came to shattering stigma around mental health.

“Stigma against mental illness is common, its impacts are serious and can be a barrier people reaching out for help,” she said.

“Campaigns like the Be Suicide Alert This Christmas are important and make sure we are working together as a community to shatter mental health stigma and take those barriers down.”

The campaign is officially launched at Bluewater Quay, to coincide with the Whitsunday Farmers’ Markets on November 21, 10am with the social media beginning December 1 and continuing through to January 5.

Grapevine Group is asking the community to follow their facebook page and lend support by sharing these posts to reach as many people as possible. The 16 warning signs can be found on their facebook page or at grapevinegroup.org.au.

During the launch, local community leaders will take part in the inaugural Mackay Community Leaders’ Standing for Suicide Prevention photo