OPINION: Changing the conversation

We need to give more support to people following a suicide attempt.WE’VE come a long way in Australia. When I first started attending national suicide prevention conferences over a decade ago, we were lucky to get 100 people in the room, with a pretty homogenous audience of researchers, policy makers and clinicians.

But things have changed. This week the National Suicide Prevention Conference was held in Hobart with almost 400 people in attendance. Yes, it included researchers, policy makers and clinicians, but we also had politicians, commissioners, people working in Indigenous health, those representing the LGBTI community, workplaces, technology providers, media, and a very large contingent of people with lived experience of suicide who are changing the conversation.

In a climate where we are still waiting for the government to act on the National Mental Health Commission’s review of mental health and suicide prevention, you might expect some complacency. But there was very little of that.

Instead, people from all around Australia, across different industries and from varied backgrounds, came together to talk about what we need to do next in suicide prevention.

Here are some of the key points I took away from the conference that are relevant to all of us.

We need to take action when we know what to do. While further research is important, we have good evidence for a range of strategies that work in suicide prevention. What we need to do is better connect the research to our practice, and ensure that our work is co-ordinated at a regional level so it is relevant to local communities. It is not good enough to have a program that works operating in one location in Australia; it must exist in every region that needs it.

We need to acknowledge that suicide prevention is bigger than just one sector. It is about health services, schools, workplaces, the media, governments, families and communities all playing their part. But to play that part, we need to invest in good workforce development so all of these sectors have the knowledge and skills to contribute. No longer is suicide prevention training a skill that just some people need, we all need it.

We must value and listen to people with lived experience of suicide. They have a wisdom that quite frankly, money just can’t buy. We must ensure we keep them at the centre of our planning and delivery of suicide prevention approaches. We must also include them in how we communicate about suicide. Besides, who is better placed to get the message out to people who are doing it tough that things can be different?

We need to do more about supporting people following a suicide attempt. We know that a previous attempt is one of the biggest risk factors for death by suicide, yet too often people are turned away from services or discharged from a service without the ongoing support they need. If we want to turn around our national suicide rates, we must make this a priority immediately.

Finally, we need to acknowledge that until we address many of the underlying problems such as social disadvantage, family violence, childhood trauma, discrimination and racism, we will be ineffective. Everyone who cares about health, wellbeing and suicide prevention should care deeply about these issues and not stay silent about things that matter.

Conferences are a great time to reflect on current practice, learn from others and connect with new partners across diverse sectors. But the test of how effective these events are will be measured in the changes we enact together over the coming year.

If you are interested in learning more about suicide prevention locally, the Hunter Institute of Mental Health will be hosting a breakfast event on August 13, where I will be joined by international suicide prevention expert Professor Nav Kapur and chief executive of Suicide Prevention Australia, Ms Sue Murray. We will also launch the Hunter Suicide Prevention Collaborative – demonstrating the commitment from local services for local solutions.

For more information and tickets to the suicide prevention events on August 13, visit stickytickets杭州夜网m.au/27263.

For more information on how to talk about suicide visit conversationsmatter杭州夜网m.au For support call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit lifeline杭州夜网.au

Jaelea Skehan is director of the Hunter Institute of Mental Health

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