A mental health prevention institute is pushing for a new approach to be implemented to prevent suicide in Australia at a summit at Parliament House in Canberra on Monday.
Andrea Booth

10 Aug 2015 - 4:16 PM  UPDATED 10 Aug 2015 - 5:13 PM

Mental health prevention organisation, the Black Dog Institute, has joined politicians, state and national mental health commissioners, clinicians and emergency services representatives from high risk communities at Parliament House on Monday to move forward a new approach it endorses to prevent suicide.

The novel approach focuses on simultaneous delivery of nine pre-existing suicide-prevention initatives.

The nine strategies

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

Prof Helen Christensen, the director of Black Dog Institute and architect of the new approach, said in a press release that while the initiatives were already in practice, their potential was not being utilised.

"For them to be most effective they need to be implemented simultaneously with the adequate support of communities, local health centres and government," she said.

"For them to be most effective they need to be implemented simultaneously with the adequate support of communities, local health centres and government"

Dr Christensen said the new strategy would "not only save the lives of people who are in crisis, it will actively reduce the number of people on their way to feeling that suicide is their only option".

She called for government to push to the plan, based on strong evidence of success in Australia and overseas, ahead. 

"We are asking state and federal governments to show leadership and provide the support needed to activate this clinically-developed approach," she said.

Suicide claims more than 2,500 lives per year and a further 60,000 Australians make an attempt, according to 2013 Australian Bureau of Statistics.

From 2001-2010, suicide rates among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were twice as high as their non-Indigenous counterparts.

NSW Mental Health Commissioner John Feneley said in a statement Monday that the number of suicides in NSW could potentially reduce by 20 percent, if all effective strategies were deployed simultaneously.

“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.”

Ian Hickie, the co-director of the Brain and Mind Centre at the University of Sydney that focuses on improving the lives of those who live with mental illness, said via Twitter from the conference that leadership needed the trials of the National Mental Health Commission Report.

Participants at the summit included Health Minister Sussan Ley, Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robb and Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Minister Pru Goward.

Ms Ley told the summit the government was intending to develop a new national mental health plan. "Our goal is to support a more coordinated and integrated system of services across all governments," she said.

"Everyone in this audience knows how complex and multi-faceted an issue suicide is. How it has many causes and precipitating factors. How it devastates families, friends, workplaces, communities.

"How, when someone takes their own life, it evokes a whole spectrum of emotions – shock, despair, bewilderment, grief, anger, guilt, loss, abandonment – and an outpouring of empathy both for the individual who has gone – and for the people left behind."

Other speakers included NSW Governor David Hurley and Professor Professor of Psychiatry and Population Health Nav Kapur.

The National Health and Medical Research Council and the Black Dog Institute co-hosted Monday's summit.