Man with short hear stands outside with a sign that says Safe Haven
Dean Grasselli is a peer worker at the Safe Haven in Campbelltown, part of South Western Sydney Local Health District. He says, "... it can be very reassuring to know they’re talking with someone who has some insight from a first-hand experience. I can say ‘I hear you, I recognise you … I understand your pain’.”

‘Walumarra Dungal’ means “protect, guard, support” in the language of the Wiradjuri people from central NSW, and in many ways resonates with a new Safe Haven in Dubbo that officially opened in March.

Anyone, of any age, who is experiencing emotional or suicidal distress can visit this warm and calm space when they need to gather their thoughts and talk to someone who understands their situation.

The facility joins 17 other Safe Havens across the State that are funded under the NSW Government’s Towards Zero Suicides initiative, including one at neighbouring Parkes that is also operated by Western NSW Local Health District.

A commercial building in Church Street, Dubbo, was chosen as a convenient location, close to the town’s centre yet discreet. Inside is a welcoming space staffed by peer workers with lived experience. Dubbo Base Hospital is a short drive away.

“It’s designed as a non-clinical alternative to presenting to the Emergency Department, and people needn’t reach the point where they’re highly distressed; they can call in to have a look around in case they need us in the future,” explains Martin Davis, District Coordinator for the Towards Zero Suicides initiatives.

Team leader Ben Brien adds: “We definitely want it to be welcoming. For example, there’s a sensory room with warm lighting, oil diffusers and relaxing chairs. People can spend as much time as they need, while we check in with them. It will hopefully be a very calming space for all.”

A menu of activities allows guests to choose whether they want to relax, have a conversation or use sensory modulation equipment to feel calmer, whether that also means having time alone to regroup, using gaming equipment, or connecting with others through to enjoying a cuppa and having a yarn with staff.

Aboriginal community members were widely consulted in the centre’s co-design and local Aboriginal art will be present within the space.

“It is good, I think, to have familiar faces here, and work with people from a variety of cultural backgrounds, gender and so forth” Ben adds. “Also, I’m able to tell people that I’ve lived in Dubbo my whole life, that I know some of the issues, barriers and challenges we go through here.

“That’s something you can’t draw upon from literature or anything else, it’s our lived experience and quite an empowering thing for the visitor.”

Safe Haven Dubbo is at Unit 2, 29 Church Street, Dubbo. While no appointment or referral is necessary, guests can phone 0436 850 152. Opening hours are 9am to 4.30pm weekdays, not including public holidays. After-hours coverage is being considered.

The Parkes-based Safe Haven is located at Suite 3/195-199 Clarinda Street and is presently open Monday to Friday from 10:00am to 4:30pm. More information is available on 0428 228 097 or or via the Mental Health Line on 1800 011 511.  

Newest Safe Haven serving Tamworth region

NSW’s newest Safe Haven opened in March to support Tamworth in the Hunter New England Local Health District (HNELHD), responding to elevated rates of suicide and mental distress in the region.

Aboriginal Mental Health Clinician Daniel Creighton, a Gommeroi man, has been appointed as the Safe Haven Manager and there are a number of Indigenous peer workers.

Located at 214 Bridge Street, West Tamworth, the building formerly served as a fire training centre but was renovated with additional health infrastructure funding from the NSW Government. The work included installing a kitchen, a suggestion resulting from yarning circles held as part of co-design workshops.

“One of the things we heard was that food is really key to conversations and being able to make a cup of tea is a really nice way for people to make connections,” says Alexandra Potter, Towards Zero Suicides Program Lead for HNELHD. “So it’s a very community-driven space.”
With Tamworth being a major regional centre, the Safe Haven is likely to adopt a hub-and-spoke model and draw from a wide area. It will interconnect with a pilot Youth Aftercare Program that New Horizons is preparing to open, along with a Lifeline-run Aftercare service.

HNELHD also operates Safe Haven Newcastle, located at 22 Stewart Avenue, and Alexandra Potter says feedback has been exceptionally positive, being centrally located and convenient to other mental health services that close at 5pm on Fridays.

“We’ve developed strong partnerships with our local community organisations,” she adds. “People will often come in and say they found out about the Safe Haven through TAFE or ACON or another service that’s not too far from here.

“What we’re also seeing, although it’s early days for us, is that we're having a lot of younger men attend the Newcastle Safe Haven, which we know is a group that does have higher rates of suicide. And often they don’t reach out to traditional mental health services.”

Indigenous engagement is fostered via Aboriginal mental health clinicians and trainees who attend the Safe Haven on a weekly rotational basis. A sunroom at the rear of the building is set up for cultural weaving.

Opening hours for both Tamworth and Newcastle are 4-9pm every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Connecting through shared experience

Cosy, comfortable and inviting: Inside the Safe Haven in Newcastle, part of Hunter New England Local Health District.

Peer workers at the frontline of Safe Havens across NSW come from a myriad of cultural and career backgrounds yet are linked by lived experience and a quiet determination to make a difference. In many ways they bring a fresh skillset and mindset to the suicide prevention space.

In the case of 23-year-old Sian Palmieri from Safe Haven Newcastle, she has a Bachelor of Psychology and is currently completing her Master of Suicidology, while also working as a Support Coordinator for The Way Back Support Service, focusing on aftercare following a suicide attempt. 

Sian has her own lived experience of suicide as well, having lost her 84-year-old Nonno (grandfather) to suicide three years ago.

“I have had a fire in my belly for all things suicide prevention ever since,” Sian says. “The space is evolving so much, particularly through incorporation of the voice of lived experiences in many new initiatives being rolled out across the state, and I’m excited to be young and just beginning my career.

“I am so passionate about the collaboration of clinical and non-clinical services providing support for an individual’s recovery journey.”

Sian describes the Safe Haven model as being “monumental and lifesaving”, crediting it with appealing to people who have never previously presented to mental health services.

“For a space to have been co-designed and created with the input of those who have walked a similar path is something completely new to a lot of us – yet so powerful,” Sian adds. “Visitors are met with a friendly face, an offer for a cup of tea and the opportunity to talk.”

Meanwhile, Dean Grasselli from Campbelltown Safe Haven in South Western Sydney Local Health District has followed a different career path, spending 20 years as a hospitality executive before becoming a peer worker. He also works part-time with the Suicide Prevention Outreach Teams (SPOT) based in Campbelltown and Liverpool.

“The pandemic prompted a few people, myself included, to look at different things, and the time also seemed right for me to fulfill a personal pledge to give a bit more meaning to my work,” Dean, a 51-year-old father of two, explains. 

“Safe Haven is exactly what the name implies, and when I saw that lived experience was a highly valued element for the role, that’s when a little bit of a light-bulb moment happened. I thought, ‘Oh gee, I wish I’d had a Safe Haven to go to when I was in suicidal distress’ and I saw an opportunity to pass on some learnings.”

Dean’s own brush with an attempted suicide occurred 10 years ago, a crisis he emerged from after acquiring new coping tools, and he feels it now enables him to establish trust and a bond with Safe Haven guests.

“Listening is one of the most important skills but for some – not all – it can be very reassuring to know they’re talking with someone who has some insight from a first-hand experience. I can say ‘I hear you, I recognise you … I understand your pain’.”

Just as every day is different at the Safe Haven, so are the guests’ needs. When they enter, there’s coffee available, a sensory room, an outdoor area and more. Dean sees it as a strength, just being different from the traditional model of care, and he’s relishing the role.

“It's not easy but there’s lots of support and supervision, and I can’t think of a better team to work with. Personally, it is about the reward, making a difference to someone’s life, and it really feels good at the end of the day.

“To give an example, say there’s a guest from a culturally, linguistically diverse background who feels isolated and has no one to talk with. The fear, the isolation that this person feels, is palpable.

“So somehow, being able to intervene and normalise the experience, remove the stigma then refocus and find the support … well, that may be a long process but it’s nice to initiate it. Hope is the one thing the future can offer.”

Campbelltown Safe Haven is open Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, 2pm to 9pm, and on public holidays.

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