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Julia Gillard calls for improved support for people like Alan, who have attempted suicide

These days, Alan Earls is feeling good, but that wasn't always the case.

Key points:

  • Julia GIllard is calling for governments to improve support for people who have attempted suicide

  • Most "aftercare" following a suicide attempt is offered through public health services

  • An evaluation of one program shows it reduced suicidal thoughts and psychological distress

A family breakdown seven years ago saw him spiral into gambling and alcohol addiction.

He lost his home, culminating in an attempt to take his own his life.

"I fell through the cracks of a lot of support services as I didn't meet the criteria," he said.

"I had to invent my own recovery. It was very hard to talk to people about it."

It's people like Alan that former prime minister Julia Gillard, chair of Beyond Blue, wants to help through increased access to suicide aftercare.

Meditating is one thing Alan has incorporated into his morning routine.(ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

Aftercare refers to the support someone receives after a suicide attempt.

Ms Gillard is using her first interview since the election to call on governments to roll out support nationally.

"We know from our evaluation that aftercare makes a huge difference to people," she said.

If you or anyone you know needs help:

  • Lifeline on 13 11 14

  • Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800

  • MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978

  • Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467

  • Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636

  • Headspace on 1800 650 890

  • ReachOut at

  • QLife on 1800 184 527

It's the kind of service that could have helped Alan Earls. Instead, he figured out himself that simple things like making his bed and meditating every morning keep him mentally healthy.

"Structure in the morning is very important and sticking to it,'' he said.

"I feel I can start the day and I have done work on myself."

A 'vital connection'

Beyond Blue's aftercare program, The Way Back, has helped more than 15,000 people across 38 sites in Australia since 2018.

People receive one-on-one assistance from a support worker for 12 weeks after a suicide attempt.

"All of the statistics tell us the real at-risk period for trying to take your life again is within three months, and so that's a critical support window," Ms Gillard said.

"It puts them in contact with a support worker who will be there to help work through why did they get to this point in their lives … their work, their relationships, their home circumstances that have driven them to this state of despair, and what can be done to alleviate that."

Julia Gillard is calling on the federal government to roll out aftercare across Australia.(ABC News: Billy Draper)

An evaluation of the program given exclusively to the ABC shows aftercare reduced suicidal thoughts by more than 60 per cent and psychological distress by 30 per cent.

"It's a vital connection with a human being who cares," Ms Gillard said.

"That matters to someone's willingness to think, 'Maybe I should put my life back together and maybe there is some hope for me in the future.'"

Ms Gillard is calling on the federal government to work with state and territory governments to ensure more people have access to one-on-one support after a suicide attempt.

"We want everyone who has tried to take their own life to be met by that warm and friendly face and start a journey of recovery," she said.

"Given the federal government has just changed we will be making sure this is on the agenda of incoming ministers."

In Australia, there has been a national push over the past few years to bring down suicide rates.

Despite concerns of a spike in suicides during the pandemic, Australian Bureau of Statistics 2020 data show rates decreased in 2019-2020 for both men and women.

The federal government said demand for mental health support had surged to record levels across the country.

"We need to make sure we have the right resources in place so Australians can get the care they need," Health and Aged Care Minister Mark Butler said.

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Alan's recovery

Alan Earls says he's glad he got a second chance.(ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

Alan Earls has had to find his own way back from suicidal thoughts.

He says helping others is one way he maintains his mental health.

He credits the Salvation Army with giving him somewhere to live in helping him get back on track.

"I was fortunate. Somebody took a leap of faith and gave me a second chance," he said.

"Once I had a roof over my head, I could have a bad day and then come home and have my own safe space where I am not at risk.

"It's been a game changer for me."

Now he helps other people, volunteering as a peer support worker at a safe space in Sydney's inner west.

"There's therapeutic value in doing something for someone else and not expecting anything in return," he said.

Most aftercare is offered through public hospitals or public mental health services.

Ms Gillard would like to see aftercare programs rolled out across Australia.

"It is really unfair that your access to this kind of help can be dependent on where you live in Australia," she said.

The call is supported by other mental health organisations. Lifeline has been piloting an aftercare program called Eclipse, which has also proven successful.

Alan Earls says helping others is one way he maintains his mental health.(ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

Lifeline's head of research Anna Brooks says governments need to make it as easy as possible for people to get help.

"It's important to think about people who haven't been hospitalised — how do we make sure they have a pathway to access support?" Dr Brooks said.

"Things like offering services digitally as well as face-to-face can remove the barriers to access."

Dr Brooks agrees that getting access to aftercare can make a huge difference.

"It's not destiny; suicide is largely preventable," she said.

"If we can support appropriate interventions and help people in ways they want to be helped, then we can change the trajectory."

Alan Earls had to figure out his own recovery after a mental health crisis.(ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

Alan Earls urges anyone who is struggling to reach out for help.

"Talk to your GP, to Lifeline, Beyond Blue or find a safe space," he said.

"The sooner you get some assistance, the sooner you can get on the road to recovery."

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