NEW BEGINNING: Amy Quattromani and Zepha Jackson are launching Let Me Walk In Your Shoes, a support organisation for Sunshine Coast people dealing with mental health issues.
NEW BEGINNING: Amy Quattromani and Zepha Jackson are launching Let Me Walk In Your Shoes, a support organisation for Sunshine Coast people dealing with mental health issues. Jaxon Brumniach

Sister of suicide victim launches mental health group

SCREAMING at ambulance officers to take her sister away for serious help after a suicide attempt at just 17 will always remain a painful memory for Amy Quattromani.

Half an hour after the ambulance left, while Amy was in the shower, her sister Sophie almost succeeded in ending her life.

She was left with an acquired brain injury, learning to walk and talk again over the next four years.

"This could have been avoided when she was 17," Amy said.

"We begged and begged and begged and nobody took it serious."

Two weeks ago Sophie succeeded in taking her life, but the four "extra years" had been precious, Amy said.

"The first time I wasn't ready, but I am now," she said. "It was like a rehearsal."

Speaking calmly about her sister, Amy said she was now committed to helping others in a similar situation.

"This is a serious issue but people don't take it seriously," Amy said.

"You don't realise how many times people would say to my sister, 'cheer up. You'll be fine. You've got a roof over your head, you've got beautiful parents'.

"It doesn't matter. It is an illness and that's what needs to be spread. We need to treat it like it's cancer."

Sophie didn't want help in the end, Amy said.

"There are people out there who do want the help, and I will be there for them," she said. "Every step of the way."

Amy and her friend Zepha Jackson will on Wednesday host the first in a series of events called Let Me Walk In Your Shoes.

"It's open to the public - everyone can come," Amy said.

The pair's new organisation will initially provide a space for people grieving for Sophie, but will also be for people with any mental health challenge. Amy and Zepha plan to connect people in need with professionals who can help.

Sophie's story of prolonged diagnosis is not unusual among sufferers of bipolar disorder, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and a range of other mental illnesses, with the average wait for a diagnosis between six and a half years and 12 years.

University of the Sunshine Coast Adjunct Professor John Mendoza said one in four suicide deaths involved people who had engaged with mental health services a month before they took their own life.

"One of the regrettable things is we have a very poor level of training in mental health, among health professionals," he said.

Suicide is behind more deaths in Australia than any other single cause of death, he said.

Amy said her sister had felt as though she had no future, and no alternative course of action.

Prof Mendoza says there is "nothing inevitable" about suicide among bipolar sufferers, even those with injuries such as the ones Sophie sustained after her first near-fatal attempt.

"There's no inevitability about it," he said. "It's entirely preventable.

"With good clinical care this girl would have been living a full life.

"The tragedy is we have hundreds of thousands of people who seek care, get crap care, and drop out."

Prof Mendoza said mental health was a "major public health problem in Australia".

"We have got to get far more serious," he said.

"We should be responding to this in the way we respond to a SARS virus or Bird Flu outbreak, or any other of the pandemics we see."

A crowdfunding campaign Amy launched on has raised nearly $10,000 in honour of Sophie, with funds going towards the Sunshine Coast Bipolar Support Group, run by pharmacist and bipolar sufferer Peter Davis.

Let Me Walk In Your Shoes will meet at 6pm on Wednesday, November 9, at Little Sisters Coffee Co on Aerodrome Rd, Maroochydore.

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