New approach to suicide prevention

Australia’s largest integrated suicide prevention program aims to reduce suicide deaths by 20% and suicide attempts by 30%.

In 2014, over 2800 Australians died by suicide and around 65 000 made an attempt. Suicide is the most common cause of death in Australians aged 15-44yrs and rates appear to be increasing.

A new approach to suicide prevention, developed by researchers at Black Dog Institute and the NHMRC Centre for Research Excellence in Suicide Prevention (CRESP), will be rolled out in four locations across NSW – with the Murrumbidgee being one.

James Lamerton, CEO of Murrumbidgee Primary Health Network (MPHN) said the organisation and local partners, including the Murrumbidgee Local Health District (MLHD) and Murrumbidgee Mental Health Alliance, had worked hard to secure the vital service for the region, which will be up and running in September 2017.

“This new ‘systems approach’ involves the simultaneous implementation of nine strategies and should significantly reduce suicide deaths and suicide attempts, as well as improving the lives of those living with suicidal thoughts and mental illness.

“The strength of the LifeSpan model is that it can be individually tailored to meet the needs in any local community”, Mr Lamerton said.

Professor Helen Christensen, Director of the Black Dog Institute and CRESP, said LifeSpan was developed in partnership with researchers, clinicians, community organisations, Indigenous health groups and people with lived experience of suicide and mental illness.

“The nine key strategies include improved access to mental health care, quality education programs for people at the front line (emergency staff, teachers, GPs), minimising access to lethal means and encouraging safe conversations about suicide in schools, workplaces and communities.

“The key to this program, and what makes it different to anything tried before, is the intensity of the interventions – this is the first time we are implementing specially tailored and evidence-based strategies at the same time within local communities.

“Importantly, we have incorporated the knowledge of people who have experience of suicidal thoughts in themselves or a loved one”, Prof Christensen said. 

LifeSpan will be implemented across four NSW regions – Newcastle, Illawarra Shoalhaven, Gosford/Wyong and the Murrumbidgee. Implementation will be staged, with one site started every four months to enable accurate measurements of effectiveness and impact.

LifeSpan is being implemented in partnership with the NSW Department of Health, Commonwealth Primary Health Networks, NSW Mental Health Commission, NSW Department of Education and local community organisations. Lifespan has been supported by a generous $14.7 million grant from the Paul Ramsay Foundation.

Pictured (from left to right): Robyn Manzie, Director Mental Health and Drug & Alcohol, MLHD; Honorable Pru Goward, NSW Minister for Mental Health; James Lamerton, CEO, MPHN; Sue Murray, CEO, Suicide Prevention Australia; Jenni Campbell, Executive of Primary Health, MPHN; and Helen Christensen, Director, Black Dog Institute. Photo courtesy of Kristine Laird.

If you, or someone you know, is feeling distressed and in need of immediate assistance, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467. 

More information about LifeSpan, including details of the nine strategies and the four trial locations, can be found at www.lifespan.org.au

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Cristy Houghton