In 2015–2016, the Clarence Valley in Northern New South Wales, Australia, experienced an unexpectedly high number of deaths by suicide, and the resulting distress was exacerbated by unhelpful press coverage. The local response was to adopt a community-wide positive mental health and wellbeing initiative. This paper describes the process and achievements of the initiative called ‘Our Healthy Clarence’. Key stakeholders were interviewed at year two and relevant documents reviewed. Data were analysed using document and thematic analysis. Our Healthy Clarence was established following community consultation, including forums, interviews, surveys and workshops. It adopted a strengths-based approach to suicide prevention, encompassing positive health promotion, primary and secondary prevention activities, advocacy, and cross-sectoral collaboration. A stakeholder group formed to develop and enact a community mental health and wellbeing plan. Factors contributing to its successful implementation included a collective commitment to mental health and wellbeing, clarity of purpose, leadership support from key local partners, a paid independent coordinator, and inclusive and transparent governance. Stakeholders reported increased community agency, collaboration, optimism and willingness to discuss mental health, suicide and help-seeking. Our Healthy Clarence draws ideas from mental health care, community development and public health. This initiative could serve as a model for other communities to address suicide, self-harm and improve wellbeing on a whole-of-community scale.
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