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Community calls for help after spate of youth suicides -

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SHANNON POWELL: She presented a happy face to everyone. If you looked at her or her pictures you'd think, "What is wrong with her? She doesn't look like there's anything wrong. What do you mean she's got a mental health illness?"

TRACY BOWDEN, REPORTER: Emma Powell was a vibrant and popular teenager.

SHANNON POWELL: She was joyous. She was so fun and happy and she lit up a room. She could walk into a room and change the energy. She was just magnificent.

TRACY BOWDEN: But life was often a daily battle.

MICHAEL POWELL: She was really high and low. So, sometimes she was, you know, she was on top of the world, and then the next day it was a different game.

TRACY BOWDEN: Emma suffered anxiety and depression, but at the same time bravely offered support to others.

EMMA POWELL: My message to each of you is, if you've had thoughts of ending your life, please reach out. Please don't be afraid to reach out and say, "I can't do this." Please get help.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: She was just one of those people who was there for everyone else, even though she was hurting herself.

PHOEBE BROWN: We get sad. Like, everyone gets sad. But, it's just E7.30 3 -mma had a different case of sadness. Like she... It overwhelmed, like, it overtook her.

TRACY BOWDEN: Emma's friends come and spend time in her bedroom.

PHOEBE BROWN: I know that Emma didn't feel good enough. Like, she thought she needed to be something else to please other people. She wanted to be the perfect girl. She wanted to be tan, she wanted to be skinny, just like any other 16-year-old girl wants to be.

TRACY BOWDEN: Family and friends did all they could to support Emma, but her illness was overwhelming.

MICHAEL POWELL: It was terrible. It was the... You wish it on no-one. Just... She had happy days, but she had some terrible, terrible days and... Yeah, just tormented and it doesn't matter what you did.

SHANNON POWELL: It was escalating, and we kept reaching out for help to the mental health and to the hospitals and we'd ask and we'd ring up and we'd take her there and she'd come home. They're saying, "No, she's fine. The risk inside is greater than the risk outside."

PHOEBE BROWN: We tried everything to help her, but in the end, I think, she just needed to, wanted to help herself and she just couldn't in the end, I guess.

(Men sing in Indigenous language)

TRACY BOWDEN: Emma took her own life in December. The suicide of one teenager is a tragedy, but local community workers have told 7.30 that the northern New South Wales Clarence Valley has seen at least six young people take their own lives in the last 12 months.

NOEMI BECKMAN: I think it's just followed one after the other, and the more there is, the more people think it's OK and normal.


NOEMI BECKMAN: It's become very normalised.

MICHAEL POWELL: It touches everyone. And then you get the fear that in two months' time there could be someone else. And you just don't want to see it happen. No more. It's got to stop.

MARK MCGRATH: I think it's multi-layered. I think it's a combination of, you know, a decade of migrating services to our other major regional areas like Coffs Harbour and Lismore. I think one of the other contributing factors is just the lack of job opportunities for young people in the region. I think it's a range of things that have just sort of pulled together and somehow we've ended up with this perfect storm.

TRACY BOWDEN: This community is in crisis and there simply aren't enough local resources to deal with it.

MARK MCGRATH: I field calls on a weekly basis from extremely frustrated parents who are often, you know, crying on the other end of the phone, desperate to try and get their kids into some kind of service. And, you know, access some of the services, the very little services that we've got, there could be up to a three month wait. That's far too long for, you know, a young person who's in crisis.

TRACY BOWDEN: We spoke to some young girls today, and they said that they have almost come to expect there will be another suicide.

MARK MCGRATH: Yeah. And that's... And I would say that the general population would have similar sort of feelings. Unless some significant changes happen in the Valley and we see a large injection of funds and, you know, some rapid development of services and support, I'd say it is inevitable.

TRACY BOWDEN: Every evening, Emma's friends and family come here to the banks of the Clarence River.

SHANNON POWELL: It's a place that Emma would escape to. So, when we go there, we feel that we're connecting with her and our friends come and the children all come and we sit and we laugh and we tell stories about her. It's a real spiritual connection. So, it's really beautiful.

TRACY BOWDEN: If the Health Minister was sitting here and you could tell him what you would like to see happen or what you would like him to do, what do you think you might say to him?

MICHAEL POWELL: I would tell him to come for a drive with me and let's go and see the different organisations in the community and talk to these people who deal with it daily. And get on the ground skills and just get the information that's out there and don't wait for the report and don't look through the spreadsheet and don't look at the numbers. Just come for a drive with me.

LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: If that story's raised concerns for you, remember help is available. You can call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36.