Lockdown periods have led to a 30% increase in calls to Parents Beyond Breakup, a national suicide prevention charity based on the Northern Beaches. The charity deals with non-custodial parents who are experiencing situational distress through relationship breakdown.
Gillian Hunt, Chief Executive officer of Parents Beyond Breakup, says that under ‘normal’ circumstances parents are much more able to deal with their situations. But with the impact of Covid and ongoing lockdowns they are unable to deal with their current circumstances, which can lead to suicide.
“Due to Covid, parents are unable to see their children and court dates have been pushed out, Gill explains.
Non-custodial fathers make up approximately 70 percent of recipients of support from the charity. Research shows as many as half of all separated fathers experience thoughts of suicide, and separation is the biggest single relationship risk factor for men- with nearly 4 in 10 male suicides linked to separation.
Weekly face-to-face meetings for dads are held at the Freshwater swim club, but have been moved online whilst the current lockdowns are in place.
Hunt emphasises that the meetings are a safe space and are run by dads that have ‘lived experience’, having themselves experienced relationship breakdown. The groups of around five to eight men all get the chance to talk and be heard, and whilst it has been challenging to maintain that same level of connection via Zoom meetings, Hunt stresses that the online meetings are still vitally important in getting dads the support they need.
“We are missing this vulnerable group of men and they are being left behind”.
She also states that situational distress, not mental health, is one of the biggest triggers for suicide in men in Australia.
“It is extremely important to raise awareness that these are not men with mental health issues, they are dads in distress who are struggling with their current situation”.
The charity has supported fathers in distress since 1999, but has more recently begun to support mothers also. Hunt says it is important that parents know they also offer weekly online meetings for mums.
“Society expects the mum to be the parent that gets the children, so they have to deal with the shame of not being the custodial parent”.
Parents Beyond breakup would like to get the message out there that there IS support available for local residents during this tough time – especially in the suicide prevention space.
They operate a suicide helpline as well as multiple support groups, currently being held online. They also offer Facebook groups and Facebook messenger, where there is a lot of engagement, especially within the mums Facebook group.
The helpline closes at 5pm, but after those hours the Facebook messenger service is highly responsive, along with the Facebook groups. The charity hopes to be able to operate the helpline 24 hours a day, seven days a week in the future, but currently do not have the funding to do so.
The Freshwater Dads in Distress support group is on Wednesday evenings at 7:30pm, and is currently online.
The Mums in Distress online meeting is held on Tuesdays at 6pm (AEDT).
Further information and links to the online meetings, as well as the Facebook groups can be found on the Parents Beyond Breakup website: https://parentsbeyondbreakup.com/
Parents Beyond Breakup Helpline: 1300 853 437
Having suicidal thoughts? A 24/7 crisis line is available via Lifeline: 13 11 14.