‘Seasons for Life’: Supporting young people to recover from the devastating impact of suicide

Published 9 December 2022
Southern Cross Professor Anne Graham AO

Suicide is the leading cause of death for young people under 25 years in Australia, representing 31 per cent of all deaths for those aged 15‐17 years. More than 10 million Australians of all ages know someone who has been impacted by suicide. Yet it remains a loss that many find difficult to talk about and can be complex to grieve.

Seasons for Growth is a program that offers children and young people a safe space to come together and share their experiences of change and loss.

For many years, the Centre for Children and Young People (CCYP) at Southern Cross University has been working collaboratively with family support agency Mackillop Family Services (MacKillop) in developing evidence-informed interventions that support children, young people and adults to understand and cope with change, loss and grief. 

Over 350,000 participants have completed Seasons for Growth programs, with previous evaluations highlighting these may also play an important role in early intervention and postvention efforts with young people in communities impacted by suicide. 

Southern Cross Professor of Childhood Studies and Founding Director of the CCYP Anne Graham AO, who is also author of the highly successful Seasons for Growth programs, is now collaborating with MacKillop and an expert national advisory group, to develop Seasons for Life. This program integrates the best available evidence around suicide prevention and postvention. 

“While it is critically important that there is immediate and adequate crisis support for schools and families following a suicide event, it is also critical to provide ‘upstream’ interventions that enable children and young people to learn the knowledge and skills they need when life gets difficult for them,” affirmed Professor Graham. 

Funded by the Department of Health and Aged Care, Professor Graham said the focus of Seasons for Life is very much on strengthening protective factors such as social and emotional literacy, problem-solving, choices, goal setting, knowing who to turn to. 

She added that, “importantly, Seasons for Life will also help build the confidence and capacity of high school leaders, staff and parents across Australia in their efforts to support young people to navigate change, loss, grief and uncertainty in their lives, as well as following suicide and other traumatic loss events.” 

Bianca Bennett, a school psychologist, knows first‐hand how important it is to support young people to recover from significant and sudden losses. She has assisted young people following the deaths of two students by suicide and the loss of a student in the 2019 volcano eruption in New Zealand. 

Bianca continues to support students going through major life experiences as a Companion in the Seasons for Growth program. “Many students are excited to leave school, but face emotions that are often confusing and overwhelming. Many of our young people report high levels of fear in relation to adjusting to the loss of a safe space, people to talk to, loss of routine and structure and guidance. Programs and group work to assist with this major transition can equip them with much needed skills to make a successful transition processing adjustment and change and setting them up for success,” says Bianca.

MacKillop’s Program Manager, Fiona McCallum, says Seasons for Life will provide schools with a roadmap to establish wrap‐around support for students and develop resources within their local community. 

This program, which is provided free to Australian secondary schools, will support young people and also strengthen the knowledge and skills of family and school staff directly supporting them. “The funding from the Department of Health and Aged Care is a game changer in ensuring every high school across Australia that might benefit from the Seasons for Life and Seasons for Growth programs will be able to access these along with training and ongoing support. We will work closely with other relevant agencies, such as Be You/Headspace, to ensure the best possible outcomes for these school communities,” said Fiona.

The Seasons for Life program is funded by the Australian Department of Health’s National Suicide Prevention Leadership and Support Program, overseen by a national Advisory Group and will be evaluated by an external university partner. Seasons for Growth was created by Professor Anne Graham as a not-for-profit initiative provided by MacKillop Family Services.

'Stormbirds', Highly Commended Award in the 2022 National Resilient Australia Awards

This week, the Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience has recognised 'Stormbirds', one of MacKillop’s Seasons for Growth suite of programs, with a Highly Commended Award in the Mental Health and Wellbeing Award category of the 2022 National Resilient Australia Awards. 

'Stormbirds' supports young people to understand and manage the changes and impacts they experience as a result of a natural disaster. The program has been in increasing demand over the last few years as it creates a safe space for children and young people to practice new ways of thinking and responding to change and loss following natural disaster events.

One of the key strengths of the program is that it supports children throughout a period when their parents may be juggling the realities of flood damage including loss of homes, belongings and jobs, while dealing with their own trauma-response to the disasters.

Professor Anne Graham AO, author of the 'Stormbirds' program, understands how important it is for children to be supported in processing their emotions after living through a natural disaster and knowing who to reach out to in any challenging times ahead.

“A key part of the 'Stormbirds' session is ‘Growing Stronger Together’, which supports children and young people to identify ways that a natural disaster can strengthen communities. It’s important that they can name the special people, places and things that helped them through a difficult time. Knowing there are people who continue to support them beyond the immediate crisis is critical for developing resilience and feeling positive about the future,” said Professor Graham.

Media contact: Content team content@scu.edu.au