A woman with blonde-grey hair wearing a white dress has a big smile on her face and has her hands on her hips
Terri Rowe is a rural counsellor in the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District. She says, "Keeping people safe is the ultimate reward of counselling, and my favourite saying is that all the people I’ve worked with are still here, all of them."
 

 Mental health clinical nurse consultant Terri Rowe, from the Towards Zero Suicides Enhancement to Rural Counselling initiative in the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District (ISHLHD), has two simple ‘tools of the trade’ to complement her wealth of experience – one is an inspiring book, the other is a cup of tea, and she credits both with saving lives.

 

Terri trained as a mental health specialist in the UK. She moved to Australia in 2009 and worked in the prison system before becoming one of NSW’s first rural counsellors in August 2020, covering the coastal strip from Nowra to Ulladulla.
A mobile, two-person SPOT (Suicide Prevention Outreach Team) operates in the same region, offering support at times of crisis whereas Terri mostly works alone and can spend longer with those needing support.

“It can be hard to get anywhere if you don’t have a car down here,” Terri says. “It’s quite a struggle for people, particularly with Aboriginal people who feel isolated from their communities, so the home visit aspect is really important.

“Usually there’s been a crisis, a life crisis, situational crisis, that people don't know how to deal with. Particularly with COVID, with the bushfires, floods and everything like that, the post-traumatic stress doesn’t necessarily come straight away.

“It can affect anyone – I've worked with people from 15 up to 85. It’s a mixture of different populations, it’s a mixture of gender, a mixture of occupations. We don’t do a one-size-fits-all treatment because each person’s situation is different.”

Terri says one of her elderly clients was almost inconsolable when her pet dog became gravely ill. “I did the usual British thing, made a cup of tea, sat with her while she spoke with the vet, and luckily the dog is still here … it wasn't as bad as she thought.”

The book that Terri offers is a pocket-sized best-seller penned by Stuart O’Neill, whose father died by suicide. Called Just One Reason, it’s both a safety plan and conversation starter. “I found it by chance and, luckily, my health district allowed me to purchase lots of them,” Terri adds. “I've got experience of bereavement by suicide myself, so it’s very close to my heart.

“Keeping people safe is the ultimate reward of counselling, and my favourite saying is that all the people I’ve worked with are still here, all of them. You can see somebody who’s broken into pieces and then, over time, you can watch them build up their resilience, work on their strengths, strengthen their connections. And yes, you can see them blossom and get back on with their lives.”

The challenges are many and varied for her clients in the region. Some are homeless, others have witnessed tragic events, while COVID has prompted an influx of people relocating from cities but unable to find rental properties or work. Terri Rowe prides herself of being a good listener in all circumstances and uses her outgoing personality to induce a smile. One of her clients calls it the ‘Terri sparkle’.

“You just give them self-worth, self-esteem, encouragement, work on their strengths, and try to end each conversation with something positive. If I can, I try to make them smile, because if you can make somebody smile or even laugh, you’ve done something to keep them safe.”

Referrals to the ISHLHD’s Enhancement to Rural Counselling service are predominantly made via the NSW Mental Health Line or the community mental health team. 

Enhancement to Rural Counselling is a NSW Heath Towards Zero Suicides initiative.

Current as at: Wednesday 27 April 2022
Contact page owner: Mental Health Branch