BACKING OUR SENIORS: Jill Fisher, president of the Standby Suicide Response.
BACKING OUR SENIORS: Jill Fisher, president of the Standby Suicide Response. Patrick Woods

Elderly need our support for life

AUSTRALIA'S ageing population is often seen as a dilemma for society but National Standby Response Service coordinator Jill Fisher says we should embrace our seniors.

Statistics show the elderly demographic is a group recognised as at risk of suicide, and numbers of those in that risk group will increase over the next decade as our population ages.

The Sunshine Coast already has a much higher population of elderly people than the national average.

Ms Fisher said despite this being a challenge, it was also a blessing.

"We need to start thinking about this as an issue. Let's put the prevention in place now," she said.

"Why is it okay for someone who's 75 years old to die? There is so much older people contribute.

"Elders are role models, so when an elder takes their life it can be modelling that this is a coping mechanism that's okay but it's not okay."

The ripple effect of losing an older person can be far greater due to a lifetime of accumulating friends and family.

The National StandBy Response Service - a program of United Synergies Ltd - has a primary role to support people and communities affected by suicide loss.

Evidence shows that supporting people affected by suicide prevents suicide, and the National StandBy Response Service lead Australia and the world in developing new programs for suicide prevention.

Ms Fisher was awarded the 2011 International Association for Suicide Prevention Norman Farberow Award and will attend the conference in Montreal this year.

But she isn't resting on her laurels in the fight to remove stigma about mental illness.

"We don't normalise suicide (but) it's normal to talk safely about suicide," she said.

"We have a mateship culture. One thing we should strive for is to look out for each other.

"I think we need to start using that language about older people and we need to think about older people as our mates."

Ms Fisher believes the best way to combat mental illness in the elderly is for them to be involved in the solution.

"If we can remind older Australians that they're worthy, they're valuable, that they are living contributing lives then we're going to see a reduction in suicide," she said.

"There is always hope."