Death and loss are hard to talk about, even when you know somebody well.
Bronwen Edwards, the founder and CEO of Roses in the Ocean, lost her beloved older brother Mark to suicide almost 15 years ago.
When we meet Bronwen for the first time, we get it completely wrong. Flustered by being late because we lack a sense of direction, and knowing that we only have a short time together, we immediately launch into our spiel about the good news that Roses in the Ocean and Bronwen have been nominated by a community member as a Great Queenslander. But this story is not a good news story and when we leave our meeting, we know in our gut we got it wrong and spend the next week wishing we could have done it differently.
Instead of rushing, we wish we had told Bronwen how very, very sorry we are for her and her family’s loss. We would tell her how much we admire her for what she has created from that loss, and how grateful we are for the services she is providing to a community that is sadly growing too quickly. A community for which we find out there is still a lack of real support and understanding.
Bronwen founded Roses in the Ocean after the tragic loss of Mark, and having the real-life experience of this lack of support, understanding and knowledge that was available to people experiencing challenging times in their lives, and for the families and friends of those who are struggling in life.
Bronwen reflects that her prior careers in teaching, recruitment and personal training weren’t ever quite right for her. They certainly didn’t prepare her to be the CEO of a national not for profit organisation now employing over 30 people, all of whom have lived experience of suicide, and cited by the World Health Organisation as a global leader in the field of lived experience of suicide.
It is apparent during our discussion that Bronwen understands and is very clear on her role, even though it is not a role she ever wanted – she is there to ensure that every aspect of suicide prevention is informed by people with lived experience of suicide through genuine integration and partnership. In doing so she also honours Mark for his family, friends and colleagues. She is there to advocate, create a platform for others and drive system reform, doing her best to ensure that the small amount of funding that is available is put to its best use. Most importantly for the Queensland and Australian communities, Bronwen is there to help others who find themselves walking a path of suicide and need someone to walk alongside them.
“It is still relaxed,” says Bronwen, “Our cities continue to be more relaxed places than other cities.”
Bronwen recognises the mix that Brisbane now presents.
“I feel we have a more grown up and professional outlook. There are amazing initiatives and innovations happening around us, but Brisbane hasn’t lost that relaxed and laid back feel.”
“Of course there is the weather but we have access to so much. There are so many gorgeous natural places surrounding us where we can go to recharge and reconnect.”
Bronwen travels with her work, although less now than before Covid, and has seen the breadth of Queensland.
“There is enormous diversity. From out west, to the islands and our cities, the people are fantastic and there are many different ways to engage with our landscape and communities.”
Bronwen quickly identifies the camaraderie across other suicide prevention organisations operating in Queensland.
“When we started Roses in the Ocean twelve years ago, all the big names were operating in Sydney and Melbourne, and nobody took Queensland very seriously,” remembers Bronwen, “Out of that came great relationships with organisations like Mates in Construction, Standby Support After Suicide and AISRAP (Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention) at Griffith University. These organisations supported Roses in the Ocean and worked with us.”
“By extending the hand of friendship, we have all worked together and aligned our objectives so that Queensland is now recognised for housing grassroots organisations and leading research around suicide prevention.”
“This small but connected and supportive group is now helping people Australia wide.”
From a personal point of view, there are two things Bronwen would change, both of which she enjoys when visiting friends in Melbourne.
“It would be nice to have seasons like they do down south,” Bronwen reflects, “Particularly a proper beautiful autumn. Also, it would be great to be able to have rabbits as pets, something we can’t do in Queensland.”
From a work perspective, Bronwen would like to see a change that embraces, prioritises and invests in suicide prevention, and not just mental health.
“The current support provided by government is very clinical and there is an unbalanced distribution of support for mental health and other areas.”
“There is now a national recognition that a broader and better suicide prevention system is required. What our community, those who have lived experience of suicide, says is a vital addition is a non-clinical, peer experience that is community based.”
“The mental health system is only one component in a broader suicide prevention system, and it is fundamentally broken with critical workforce shortages. What we still see across Australia is a bio-medical approach to suicide which excludes a large number of people who need help and do not receive the support needed. In fact many share with us their experiences of having suffered further distress and trauma in these clinical environments. It is the core reason that Roses in the Ocean has been driving the introduction of community based non-clinical peer led services that can hold space for someone in distress and connect them with a range of services that will address the underlying causes. For some this may well be clinical support, but for many it is something entirely different.”
At a national level this broader approach is being embraced and it would be great to see this type of investment in Queensland too.”
“I hope the Government genuinely invests in Queenslanders in the lead up to the Olympics,” says Bronwen. “I expect there will be enormous opportunities and funds available, and I would like to see investments made in a sustainable, socially responsible and environmentally friendly way. We have significant social issues, like homelessness that need addressing, and I hope that when money is invested into Brisbane to welcome the world that we address these issues in our planning rather than offer a superficial façade. I hope they also focus on ways in which new infrastructure creates community spaces and green spaces that bring people together, encouraging a sense of community and connection.”
“My two other hopes are around innovation and infrastructure. We hear about exciting innovations that happen here in the early stages of creation but then these seem to go somewhere offshore for development. I would like to see Queensland invest in onshoring innovation opportunities.”
A frustration felt by many in our communities, Bronwen also hopes to see an appropriate investment in infrastructure.
“We always seem to be behind the eight-ball and where we should be or need to be,” she reflects, “I would like to see investments made so we have better long-term infrastructure in the future that benefits everyone.“
“First Bay in Coolum Beach.”
“It is our home away from home and a place where I can breathe and recharge.”
As well as being Mark’s favourite beach and where he lived, it was here that the family placed roses in the ocean for Bronwen’s young children to farewell their Uncle. From this came the name of the organisation Bronwen founded back in 2011.
“My children,” says Bronwen, “I am in awe of their resilience and their goodness, the human beings they are.”
After a brief chat about the enormity of the challenges facing the next generations, Bronwen expands on her answer to include her children’s circle of friends.
“This generation is savvy and informed, both as individuals and collectively. They are passionate about the planet, they are smart, and they are a very impressive generation.”
After further consideration, Bronwen extends her answer to include others in this generation.
“They are the first generation who have missed out on a carefree and worry-free childhood by being exposed to more than they should at an early age through the technology that has been available to them. This means they are grappling with complex topics and situations, and are under enormous pressure and stress. Yet I see incredible advocacy by these young people across all areas. They are prepared to stand up and they are prepared to implement.”
“I am privileged to walk alongside them.”
Roses in the Ocean is Australia’s national lived experience of suicide organisation and exists to save lives and reduce emotional distress and pain.
Founded in 2011, over the last decade Roses in the Ocean has developed best practice in lived experience engagement, integration and partnership.
Cited by the World Health Organisation as a global leader in the field of lived experience suicide, the organisation draws from their own lived experience of suicide, and that of all the people they have had the privilege of walking alongside.
Established in 1893, Thynne + Macartney has helped people and businesses to build and grow within Queensland and across Australia, as well as navigate the challenges and issues that sometimes arise. Our firm’s history is intertwined with the development of the State, but we haven’t shouted it from the rooftops. It is just not our style.
However, it is not every day that you get to celebrate 130 years of continuous operation and we thought that was something to shout about, but what to say?
Then we realised there must be other people, businesses and charities out there who get on with what they have to do to make Queensland the great state it is – other Great Queenslanders.