The simple art of connection – a hand on the shoulder and a smile

Information Links:

Website: https://spcap.org.au/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Suicide-Prevention-Community-Action-Planning-Group-172875509971623/

Here is the document we were discussing:  SUICIDE PREVENTION – Flyer MKY (with hyperlinks)

Transcript of Podcast

Leanne:                Welcome to Tribe Talk. I’m Leanne Simpson and we’re discussing connection to being the key to community wellness. And my wonderful guest today is Deb Rae. She’s a facilitator for the Suicide Prevention Community Action Planning Group here in Mackay. And it’s great to have you here today with us, Deb. Thank you very much.

Deb Rae:              Hi Leanne, it’s wonderful to have a chance to talk with you and everyone today.

Leanne:                Yeah. So the magic of the internet has given us so many opportunities that we may not have even thought of before COVID-19. So I think it’s just wonderful that you and I can be across town. We could be across Australia across the world, and we can touch bangs to talk about a very important subject and that’s connection.

Deb Rae:              Yes, absolutely. And what a great example of being able to do this today is of connection.

Leanne:                So from your point of view, when I throw the word connection at you what do you think it is, because I’m sure that word can mean a lot of things for a lot of people, but for you, Deb Rae, what does it mean?

Deb Rae:              Yes. I think connection is an important part of what I do with my work, but it’s become much more relevant and obvious with everything that’s happened around COVID-19. And when we don’t have the same opportunities to connect, you suddenly start to understand what connection really does mean. And for me, connection is the basic human need. We have to have connection with other people to survive. There’s research that shows that babies die if they don’t have connection with people, if they don’t have physical touch, that level of connection. So it’s a basic need that we have, and it influences every part of our life, the quality of our life, our physical health, our mental health, it makes sure that we stay healthy. And I think people need different levels of connection too.

Deb Rae:              So it can be physical. It can be about physically touching. And I’m sure lots of people have noticed how different it feels when you can’t hug people, when you can’t even shake their hand when you first meet them. It seems like such a simple thing, a formality even to shake hands, but the impact of being able to shake someone’s hand. Just that simple form of connection has a huge impact on both of those people. They become connected from that one small act, but connection can also be tiny things like smiling at someone, saying hello, waving, sending someone a text message. And I have certainly seen that those kinds of small acts, what seemed like small acts, can have a big impact on people’s lives as well. Particularly now when there are some people in our community who have very minimal connection with others.

Leanne:                I’m lucky that at the moment, my house is full, my husband and daughter and her partner who were going traveling are here in the house with me. So I’ve got some physical pits and people around type of thing. But I didn’t realize like when we go to class, when you greet someone and you haven’t seen them for a while, you give this kind of company thing. And that’s like the shaking hands. I remember, as a girl, I wasn’t brought up to shake heads, so I wasn’t taught how to do it. And I was really discussing it once with Anne Butcher, from the Mackay Women’s Services about it. And so she was teaching me how to shake hands. And she was like, I said, “Thank you so much.”

I went to one of my Tai chi classes. I was telling the ladies, “You’re going to feel this is really silly? Anne taught me how to shake hands because I felt that connection wasn’t correct. That I was doing something that didn’t feel right to me. And I must’ve been doing something wrong. Anne said just kept practicing.”

Well, then we found out half the rest of the group, all being women had never learned how to shake hands either. So we started practicing shaking hands and it was just like this interesting thing. And we found this whole new connection with people.

Deb Rae:              Yeah. And at least even with that, there is some level of touch and I’ve done a lot of work around grief and loss and I’ve experienced significant grief myself. And my husband died and one of the things I remember afterwards is that my husband had died about six weeks earlier or two months earlier. And somebody helped to hold up my hand and I became very emotional and they said, “What’s wrong?” And I said, “That’s the first time someone has held my hand like that in two months.” And it wasn’t until then that I realized the impact of that. And as you said, particularly, in those times when there’s grief or when people are stressed or there’s high level of anxiety. And people think, “I need to be able to give them some advice. So I need to know what to say and I don’t know.”

Deb Rae:              But the reality is that we can make that connection without words. You can put your hand on their shoulder, you can hold their hand, you can give them a hug. And that connection is instant without using any words at all.

Leanne:                Yeah. So it’s really quite interesting. Yeah. So the connection, that feelings that you can portray. And I loved earlier then when you talked about the smile, because I think a smile is a very important thing. And I remember working with a group that had chronic conditions and they were talking about how worthless they felt to help community because their condition had made them unable to volunteer in the community. So I set them on a task of smiling where they went. I said, “Because if you don’t know what other people’s stories are, we’re not living their life. And I know you get frustrated that people don’t understand what you’re going through, but if you gave a smile, you never don’t do it.” And I remember I’m sitting in this crowd and I’m allowed to tell the story and use his name because he said, “Leanne, you tell us whatever you like.”

Leanne:                So Rusty’s sitting there in the crowd. And he actually told me it was the biggest load of what I can’t say on air, right? That he’d ever heard. So anyway, I said, “I actually value people being game enough to give their opinion. I’m so glad that I provided it where you felt comfortable to tell me what you did, but I’ll just keep on with my talk. And we’ll just discuss it a little bit later on after I finished.” Anyway, so we sat there and sat and we’re talking and whatever, and we did some activities or something or other. And then we came back around and I looked at him straight in the eyes and I smiled at him and I said, “Rusty, how are you going with the whole smiling thing?” And he looked at me and then he smiled. And he just said, “You got me girl. I remember that.”

Leanne:                Then I got an email at 12:30 that night. I didn’t know till the next day because I don’t check my emails at that time of the night. But I read an email to say that he found a poem by his dad that talked about the smile, the importance of a smile. And then he was bought up by his dad all about the importance and that he had been reacting badly to that word smile because of missing his dad rather than the smile. And he’s going to do what his dad said from now on. And I was like, “How cool is that?” That was, yeah. But I’ll never forget the look on his face when I smiled at him and he just kind of sat up and he radiated. He had a really nice smile, he may have been a bit more mature in life in his ages. But I think that he might’ve been a bit of a hard stopper all his life, I tell you with his smile. So let’s talk about… Go ahead.

Deb Rae:              I’d just like to say and that’s… Because sometimes we can think that connection is about, there has to be some kind of big thing that happens or it’s formal but it’s just about people giving someone your attention and as you said, it makes them feel important and valued. And you can do that simply with a smile. You can simply do it by making eye contact with someone, your attention, giving your attention to someone else is the most valuable thing you can give them.

Leanne:                Yeah. And that’s right. And I think we talk about that often when I’m working with young moms and they say they go out somewhere and people look away from them when their child’s playing up. So they assume that people are judging them for doing something wrong, but they’re not. People think, “Well, if I look at her, I’ll make her feel uncomfortable.” But if you look at that mum, who’s doing the very best she can as well. And just like, “I know how you feel,” you’re actually empowering that woman to do it. So, yeah. So it’s quite interesting. So let’s go back to SPCAP for short, the Suicide Prevention Community Action Planning group, the SPCAP for short. And which is, we want to talk about those initials because the website is S-P-C-A-P.org.au, is that correct?

Deb Rae:              That’s right.

Leanne:                Yeah. So we need to say the word SPCAP so that people can find the wonderful website that the organization has put together. So tell me a little bit about… This is one of this organization’s way of connecting. So tell us a little bit about why connection’s important the SPCAP about the website, but also about what you’re trying to do for community.

Deb Rae:              So the Suicide Prevention Community Action Planning group is designed to develop resources and implement those strategies in the community that reduce suicide. And we know from the research that we’ve done, that the best way to do that is by supporting people to connect to others because when we’re connected, then we have better health. We have better physical and mental health. We have a better quality of life. We have networks who can support us. We have people around us who notice if we’re not doing so well or our health seems to be declining, or we don’t turn up for work. And we need people who… We need to have those connections so we have those people supporting us. And so the group has put together a whole range of resources to support people, to connect.

Deb Rae:              Our basic goal is, we had to change everything, obviously because of COVID-19, which is why we were connecting face to face with people until now. But we’ve modified to be online until we can go back to face to face. But it’s very much about how do we support men in particular. We know it’s mostly men who die by suicide. And then as you said, men, traditionally stereotypically are less likely to ask for help. So how do we support them to reach out, how do we support them to know it’s okay to connect? And so there are lots of resources about the courage, it’s actually the most courageous thing you can do is ask for help and make that connection with someone else. But since we know that men might not do that, we’re also asking the whole community to support men, to reach in.

Deb Rae:              And so that’s about connecting with people who aren’t so connected. Have you noticed that your neighbour hasn’t been around for a few days? Have you noticed that someone at work’s looking pretty low? Have you noticed if someone hasn’t been turning up for putting practice. And asking the question, making that connection, “What’s going on for you?” That small, small act of connecting with a person, can actually save their life. You might be the only person who’s talked to your elderly neighbour in days. Or you might be the only person who’s reached out to that person on your footie team and actually ask them what’s happening for you. And so they’re small acts of connection can make a medium impact. We’re encouraging everyone in the community to connect until they develop social connections.

Deb Rae:              So be part of sporting groups or community groups, or what’s happening at work or connect with your neighbours, because we know those connections are what makes a difference for people’s lives.

Leanne:                So we’ve gotten a little bit of a takeaway item that people will be able to download. So I’ll put that in the comments of the Tribe Talk on Balance Minder, and also put it over in their units, in my Tribe group that I have. That way that people get to get touch on it. So just give us a little summary of what this takeaway item can be of use for.

Deb Rae:              So it’s an infographic that has embedded links in it. So you can link directly to a range of websites that can provide some support. So basically, it talks about if I’m in trouble myself, if I’m struggling with my mental health, how do I reach out about being in a crisis? And then it’s also about if you notice that something’s happening for someone else, how do I reach in? What kinds of things can I do to support them and where can I get some help to help to do that for them? And then how do we just stay mentally well? What kinds of things can we do so we have a good mental wellness all the time. And then very basic things about our sleep and eating well and getting some level of exercise as well. And I think one of the main things about resources that people often think that if I ask someone, “How are you doing? Are you okay?”

Deb Rae:              And they say, “No,” then I don’t know what to do. But it’s just about making that connection. You don’t have to be an expert. All you need to do is know how to get them to the expert. It’s like if they had a broken leg, you wouldn’t stand back and say, “But I don’t know how to fix broken legs. I should not do anything.” You would help them get into an ambulance and go to the doctor. So we were talking about the same thing. All you need is to be there with them, to making a connection and say, “Okay. Let’s work it out together. What do you think we should do?” And there’s plenty of resources on that document that you can access. So if people are in a really difficult space, it might be going to the hospital. Or it might be contacting a GP who can help with mental health concerns, or it might be calling a helpline, or it might be just having a bit of time to chat with you even. And that starts to make them feel better straight away.

Leanne:                Thank you so much for coming in and chatting to us about connection and making a connection with me. So Tribe Talk is that trying to break down the barriers where people that may not necessarily be able to get access to certain information can do so. So people out there, if you’re listening and there’s a certain line of information, you’d like to know about connection, just jump on the Balance Minder’s Facebook page, or go onto either website SPCAP or Balanced Minder’s website both of us have contact forms there. So also tell people that you know, that aren’t on Facebook. So there’s a group of the population, tell them about these websites. They go, “Oh, I can’t go on that Facebook page.” Well, they don’t need to, there is some really, really good resources there for people to go onto and they just need to know what to look for.

Leanne:                Balance Minder, SPCAP, so S-P-C-A-P.org.au. So thank you, Deb Rae, for coming in and chatting with us. It’s been an awesome 15 minutes of your time. And for mine, I feel blessed having you on to chat with me.

Deb Rae:              Thank you so much, Leanne. It’s so nice to talk with you again as well.

Leanne:                It’s like history repeating itself, isn’t it? And that’s a story for another day ladies and gentleman. So you’re going to have to keep tuning in to Tribe Talk the next time Deb and I could catch up. So thank you everyone for listening. Thank you for joining in and hope you felt some connection with us. We’re trying to have the conversation like we’re sitting in your lounge room and you were sitting by listening to us and there’s two people so passionate about what we talked about. We didn’t let you get a word in, we’re sorry.

But if you’ve got any questions don’t forget to put them in the comments because Deb and I can also answer them that way. So thank you for your time. Look after yourself. I’m going to put a little bit of music to go out while I press some buttons. And Deb’s going to sit there and smile because it could take me a minute or two to go offline. So keep well everyone, keep good and keep connected. Yes. 


Deb Rae, Facilitator – Suicide Prevention Community Action Plan
Deb’s presentations get people thinking and moving. When people participate, it stimulates their learning and supports integration of the content. It inspires action. People think differently, make new choices and change their workplace habits.

Deb’s reassuring approach pushes people just a little bit out of their comfort zone, in a safe environment. Your guests will be intrigued, challenged and keen to explore more. They will also be delighted with new tools for problems they thought were too hard and too old to fix. They’ll also have fun!