While hospital Emergency Departments (ED) provide exceptional care during a medical crisis, people experiencing suicidal thoughts or emotional distress often require a quieter environment to receive support.
NSW Health’s Safe Haven initiative recognises this and provides a non-clinical alternative – a warmer, calmer, culturally-sensitive place to turn to for personalised support from peer-support workers and other health professionals.
In recent months, 14 Safe Havens have opened in multiple locations across Greater Sydney and regional centres stretching from Wagga Wagga in the south, to Broken Hill in the west, and north to Tweed Heads. Eventually, across the state, 20 services will be operational under the three-year, $25 million NSW Government funding package.
Medicare is not required, nor are referrals or appointments – an important factor when data shows that many people who have died by suicide had not consulted a health service within the prior 12 months.
As St George Safe Haven coordinator Max Simensen explained: “Safe Haven is unique in being non-clinical and also predominantly staffed by people with a lived experience … people who understand the experience”.
“We've had some guests come back pretty consistently, multiple times, so it just depends on what they need in that situation. Hopefully, with promotion, more people can be aware of us before they get into a crisis.”
Safe Haven is not a medical service. Those in immediate danger should dial 000. 24/7 crisis support services are also available:
One guest at St George is Kamara, who has lived with mental illness for 27 years and previously connected with various community and in-patient mental health services. She described the new space as “safe, non-judgemental and welcoming”.
“For example, when I was at Safe Haven one day, I experienced a vivid flashback, where I had high anxiety and dissociation … I was supposed to leave to go to another commitment, but I wasn’t able to ensure I would be safe from myself,” Kamara said.
“With support from staff, I cancelled the commitment and stayed at Safe Haven, joining in activities like playing UNO with other guests."
“I left feeling safe and was able to get through the night. This service has prevented me from going to Emergency or Mental Health units for suicidal ideations. It is like no other service I have used.”
Safe Haven is a NSW Heath Towards Zero Suicides initiative.