Emeritus professor Judy Atkinson speaks to the crowd at the Grafton Community Centre at the
Emeritus professor Judy Atkinson speaks to the crowd at the Grafton Community Centre at the "Our Young People Matters" forum. Adam Hourigan

Public forum places focus on youth suicide

PLEASE, please help us.  

This was the impassioned plea from a Clarence Valley youth who addressed the crowd at the first Our Young People Matters forum in Grafton on Friday.   

Focused on tackling the region's horrific youth suicide rate, the public meeting offered a safe place for people to openly talk about suicide and related issues, and hear from agencies and mental health workers at the coalface.

Sitting in the front row were  the local represent- atives from all three tiers of government.   

Clarence Valley mayor Richie Williamson said it wasn't the first time they had all met on the issue.  

"We've had a particularly horrific run and this forum really does highlight how serious this is," Cr Williamson said.  

"We all do have a real responsibility here and I know we all will work as a community, as a team, work towards a solution," he said.  

State MP Chris Gulaptis, meanwhile, acknowledged there was only so much government could do.  

"There are social issues we need to address in order to look at the bigger picture of trauma," he said.  

"With issues like this, government rarely has the answers.

What we do have is resources, but the answers lie with the people here, the people in the community who just care." 

Read related article:Expert brings personal experience to forum

The crowd also heard from members of Voice Up Australia, Glendra Stubbs from Royal Commission assistance service knowmore, and trauma counsellor Emeritus Professor Judy Atkinson.   

NSW Commissioner of Victims Services Mahashini Krishna and headspace CEO Chris Tanti could not attend.

But of the powerful voices that spoke at the event, but it was those of brave teenagers and parents of children who shared their own stories that were perhaps heard the loudest.   

For two Grafton High School students who gave insight to the local issue as members of the self-created group REC(respect, equality, change), attending was so important they had to make a heartbreaking decision to miss the funeral of a young Grafton girl they knew.   

Maddy Ellem reduced the crowd to tears by singing People Help the People, with two helium balloons tied to her wrist represented her young friend.   

Fellow REC member Jacobi Basset shared her own battle with depression "in the hope that other youth can share their stories as well".  

"Depression and anxiety is not beautiful, poetic or a 'happy' thing," she said.   

"It's being awake at 3am drowning in your own self pity and self hatred and not wanting to get up in the morning and it's frankly terrifying. "    

The Year 11 student said the hardest thing on her journey, and her kickstart to recovery, was hearing her mum tell the doctor how much her own suffering had affected her family.  

"I just want you all to know, as adults, there are three words so insignificant when they're apart in the dictionary, but so important when put together - are you okay."   

Organiser Michelle Cowan urged people to start up open door programs similar to the one she has started at CHESS.     

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