Program overview

South Eastern NSW

Lead agency
Safe Space is an emerging initiative of the Illawarra Shoalhaven Suicide Prevention Collaborative (the Collaborative).

Living Well domain
Providing the right type of care

The Collaborative was established in 2015 and consists of representatives from over 40 organisations and lived experience advocates who are working together to reduce suicide rates in the region. The Safe Space program is a peer-led respite model that is being championed as a solution to the need for a non-clinical support option for people in psychological distress and at risk of suicide.

Showcasing: the Safe Space initiative


Suicidality is traditionally understood as a mental health crisis that requires a clinical response. Stressful and traumatic life events, poor living circumstances, the loss of a loved one, substance use and a lack of social support have all been identified as contributing to people experiencing distress. In some instances, this distress can result in people deciding to take their own life. 

Research and the voice of people with lived experience of surviving a suicide attempt show that clinical treatments are not always the most effective in helping people in psychological distress to recover and can lead to more disruption and even trauma.


The Illawarra Shoalhaven region is impacted by suicide rates that are consistently higher than national and NSW averages. In 2016, there were 13.4 deaths per 100,000 people, compared to the NSW average of 10.3 deaths per 100,000 people. (Data source: Centre for Epidemiology and Evidence. Health Statistics New South Wales. Sydney: NSW Ministry of Health). 

There are many organisations working to improve access to suicide prevention services in the area, but suicide rates remain high.


The Collaborative was established in 2015 as a way for organisations in the region, as well as lived experience advocates, to come together and work collaboratively to improve wellbeing outcomes for people and reduce suicidality in the community. 

The Collaborative now meets monthly and includes over 40 organisations including Grand Pacific Health, University of Wollongong, Lifeline and NSW Department of Education.

The Safe Space initiative was born out of a fundamental element of the Collaborative – the voice of lived experience of suicide and recovery. The Collaborative identified a need for an alternate model to traditional clinical interventions, such as a non-clinical support option that is led and run by people who have their own lived experience of suicide and recovery and use that experience to support other people during times of distress (safe space model). 


The initiative is based on a peer-run respite model that has been used effectively in Australia and internationally to support people during times of distress. This model is based on evidence that peer-to-peer relationships help to establish meaningful connections and can be a protective factor against suicidality.

The Safe Space model proposes a free and flexible service and will be largely determined by the person accessing the space. It would have the capacity for people to drop in for a cup of tea and a chat, participate in daily activities and groups, and potentially support overnight and short-term stays.

“It’s the sort of place where you might not feel great, but you can be around people… who have insight and understanding into how you’re feeling at that time and may be able to help you to reframe your thoughts and feelings and to help you come out the other side” - Bruce, Safe Space working group.


A peer-led working group meets regularly to design and develop a Safe Space in the Wollongong area. The group, which includes people with a lived experience of suicide and recovery, is in the process of securing funding.

“A few weeks ago…I had to run through the checklist of what my current risks and protective factors to suicide are and I actually realised that one of my proactive factors is my participation in the Collaborative. It really struck me that it’s not just that I get to be heard but that in itself has become one of my protective factors against suicide.” - Carrie, Safe Space working group.

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