10 August 2015

The number of suicides in NSW might potentially be reduced by as much as 20%, if all strategies known to be effective were implemented simultaneously, said NSW Mental Health Commissioner, John Feneley, today.

“There is abundant evidence about what works to prevent suicide, but it is often patchily implemented,” Mr Feneley said. “By combining these proven strategies within an overarching systems approach, we believe we may have a chance to amplify their effect and make a dramatic difference to the number of lives lost.”

Mr Feneley was commenting on the launch in Canberra of the Proposed Suicide Prevention Framework for NSW, funded by the Commission and developed by the National Health and Medical Research Council’s Centre of Research Excellence in Suicide Prevention with the Black Dog Institute. The two organisations are today co-hosting a National Suicide Prevention Summit at Parliament House.

The researchers, led by Professor Helen Christensen, identified nine strategies that could be applied in parallel at a local or regional level to reduce the number of completed suicides. They are:

  1. Reducing access to lethal means
  2. Responsible reporting of suicide by the media
  3. Promotion of national suicide awareness programs
  4. School-based peer support and mental health literacy
  5. Gatekeeper training for those like to be in contact with high risk individuals, including teachers, clergy, and community social workers
  6. Regular suicide prevention training for emergency services
  7. Training GPs to assess risk and start conversations
  8. Adequate access to tailored evidence-based therapies such as cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) to high risk groups
  9. Targeted support for people who have made a previous attempt or are in current crisis through phone and online counselling, training for emergency department staff and out-patient support.

As well as the evidence-based strategies, Professor Christensen said implementation of the Proposed Framework would require: the collection of systematic, standardised data on suicides; strong relationships with local communities and health systems so they understand and support the initiative; and cooperation in managing suicide prevention projects between agencies on the ground, such as local hospitals and GP groups, with central NSW Government agencies.

Mr Feneley said the Proposed Framework offered a powerful and coherent rationale for the systems approach, which had been demonstrated effective in a number of European jurisdictions.

Separately, the Commission is funding a research study, via the Black Dog Institute, to determine likely costs and other practical issues associated with any future potential NSW implementation.

“This research project will identify two NSW sites that potentially could benefit from the systems approach, and determine what it would cost to implement it in those places,” Mr Feneley said. “This is exciting but very preliminary work, which we hope will give us much more information about how this approach could be implemented across the state. Suicide is a devastating consequence of mental distress and feelings of hopelessness, and we owe it to the whole community to do everything in our power to reduce its toll.”

In 2013, 694 people died by suicide in NSW – a rate of 9.2 suicides per 10,000 people, with men almost three times as likely to take their lives as women. Aboriginal people died by suicide at a higher rate than the rest of the NSW population.

The Proposed Framework, which will now be considered by the NSW Government, responds to a key Action (3.4.2) within Living Well: A Strategic Plan for Mental Health in NSW 2014-2024, which was developed by the Commission and adopted as the Government’s mental health reform policy in December 2014.

It is also consistent with the National Mental Health Commission’s Review of Mental Health Services and Programs, which identified suicide prevention as a key area for immediate action and improvement. Across Australia in 2013, 2522 people died by suicide.

“This pioneering work in NSW could apply equally across all Australian states and, if fully implemented, have a major impact on the suicide rate,” Mr Feneley said.

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Last updated: 10 November 2020