Tragic brush with suicide made him a life saver
A LIFE saver in a very real sense, Gladstone businessman and Port Curtis Rotarian John Whitten is a quiet and unassuming local hero.
But his efforts and focus over the past six years in suicide prevention through setting up Project We Care has led to him becoming a finalist in the 2017 Queensland Australian of the Year Awards.
Mr Whitten is a state finalist in the Local Hero section for life saving techniques that he and others have introduced to Gladstone to save lives, particularly teens and young people.
It began with a conversation over drinks with three other Rotarians about the serious suicide problem after a man in the bar sold them raffle tickets to raise funds for Beyond Blue.
"All three of us had been affected personally by suicide and we decided then to do something about it," he said.
"We had no idea then what we were going to do but I explained my thoughts to the Port Curtis Rotary Club."
Mr Whitten said the club came on board and the work began with $40,000, including $30,750 donated by Gladstone Ports Corporation for suicide intervention projects.
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The word was put out amongst people working in mental health and he met with three Gladstone women - Lea Sycamore, Jenny Morris and Sharon Kelly - who had knowledge of the local issues.
Strategies were worked out and a proven, well- regarded Canadian-based suicide intervention training program was adopted.
And Mr Whitten became a suicide prevention volunteer.
The first thing they established was a two-day workshop, Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training, that prepares care givers.
It helps people identify friends and family who have thoughts of suicide and how to effectively intervene.
"We have trained over 200 people including high school students and teachers. It is a step by step process," he said.
The program now has a second stage called SafeTalk, which has nine trained people who deliver the program. The aim is to link someone potentially at risk to a qualified suicide first-aid intervention caregiver.
Mr Whitten said the knowledge gained from the free courses counters the statement often heard afterwards from family or friends that "there were no signs".
"We talk about the signs, they can be subtle."
And 700 high school students from Year 12 will have completed the three- hour SafeTalk course before heading off to schoolies.
Companies or people interested in the programs can contact Mr Whitten on 0410 433 919.