Recommendation 8
Recommendation 15
Recommendation 16
Recommendation 31

Recommendation 8

4.78 The Committee recommends that Commonwealth, State and Territory governments ensure that staff in primary care, law enforcement and emergency services receive mandatory and customised suicide risk assessment, prevention and awareness training as part of their initial training and ongoing professional development.

Recommendation 15

4.91 The Committee recommends that Commonwealth, State and Territory governments provide accredited suicide prevention training to all 'front line' staff, including those in heath care, law enforcement, corrections, social security, employment services, family and child services, education and aged care.

Recommendation 16

4.94 The Committee recommends that the National Suicide Prevention Strategy promote and provide increased access for community organisations and the general community to appropriate suicide prevention training programs.

Recommendation 31

6.147 The Committee recommends that additional 'gatekeeper' suicide awareness and risk assessment training be directed to people living in regional, rural and remote areas.

Response

The Australian Government supports each recommendation in relation to workforce training, noting that:
  • responsibility in some circumstances rests with states and territories; and
  • work in some areas has already commenced.
Top of pageThe Government has a strong commitment to providing Australian Public Service staff with relevant training around suicide and suicide prevention. A number of agencies that have direct engagement with clients provide training to staff. Some examples are:
  • Centrelink runs a Suicide Awareness Training Program, to ensure staff have a general understanding of suicide and suicide risk and can respond appropriately if a customer discloses suicide risk issues. This program was updated in July 2009 in conjunction with the Department of Veterans' Affairs, to include issues relevant to veterans and their families;

  • The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations has a mental health awareness training package for contracted employment service providers;

  • Detention Health, managed by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, has policies and procedures in place to identify and care for people at risk of suicide who are in immigration detention. Departmental and contracted staff receive training in all aspects of client care, including the management of suicidal clients in accordance with accepted policies and procedures;

  • The Child Support Agency is in the process of implementing an integrated Customer Risk Identification and Referral process to help staff identify risks to customer wellbeing and business outcomes, and to quickly identify the appropriate referral option. Staff will receive further training and support to identify customer cues such as distress or references to suicide and to make the most appropriate and immediate referral. Through the priority telephone referral service, 'Parent Support Service', program staff can transfer a customer to qualified telephone counsellors who will conduct a professional assessment, counselling and support;

  • The Department of Veterans' Affairs (DVA) training for peer support of suicidal veterans through Operation Life offers Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training to veterans. DVA supports the Operation Life suicide prevention Framework including a range of workshops which aim to equip the veteran community with skills to identify peers who are at risk of suicide and help those at imminent risk to stay safe and seek further help. In 2009–10, 30 workshops were conducted across Australia.
In relation to the training of health professionals and in response to recommendation 15 and recommendation 16, the NSPP has funded a range of quality mental health and suicide prevention training programs which are available to the public and promoted through initiatives such as World Suicide Prevention Day. These include Orygen's Mental Health First Aid, which has culturally sensitive adaptations for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, Lifeline's ASIST training, and Wesley Mission's LivingWorks program.

Through ATAPS, the Australian Psychological Society has developed and delivered professional development training and materials to ensure that all Allied Health Professionals are adequately skilled and prepared to support people who have self-harmed, attempted suicide or have been assessed by a GP as at risk of suicide. This training is now available at any time and from any location through on-line training.

As not all people experiencing suicidality will look to health professionals for support, the Government is also committed to equipping other frontline workers to have the skills to identify and respond to people at risk of suicide. Consistent with the Committee's recommendations, the Government has committed a further $6.1 million from 2011–12 for Mental Health First Aid' training for community workers such as Top of page financial, legal and relationship counsellors, and emergency services personnel.

The Commonwealth is reviewing the National Safe Schools Framework14 which emphasises the need for teachers to have appropriate training in positive student management. Following the review, the updated Framework will be made available in early 2011 for use by all schools to guide them through the development of policies and practices to manage proactively the incidence of violence, aggression and bullying in schools.

The Mental health: Taking Action to Tackle Suicide package will provide $18.4 million over four years to the KidsMatter Expansion. Resources, professional development and training for teachers and parent associations will support them to build resilience and identify and respond to mental health problems in primary school children.

Findings of the 2007 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) report on rural, regional and remote health15 were that rates of death by suicide in regional Australia were about 20–30% higher than in major metropolitan areas (25–40% higher for males). In remote and very remote Australia, male rates of death by suicide were observed to be 1.7 and 2.6 times higher respectively.

In response, the Government has established the Rural Primary Health Services (RPHS) program, providing $311.8 million over four years to 2012–13 to improve access to a broad range of primary and allied health care services, including mental health services, counselling, and social work or psychology services. The NSPP will provide $7.42 million in 2010–11 for national and local community based suicide prevention projects that target rural and remote areas.

A large proportion of individuals with substance use issues have co-existing mental health issues and are often at higher risk of suicide, or accidental death. Drug and Alcohol services frequently deliver programs and make referrals to mental health services and acute health services. In 2007, an additional $49.3m over four years was provided under the COAG Closing the Gap - Indigenous Drug and Alcohol Services measure to expand holistic and culturally appropriate substance and alcohol treatment services nationally, in an effort to improve services available to regional and remote Indigenous communities, including new services and new service types.

The Commonwealth has also established targeted initiatives to improve the understanding of suicide risk assessment and mental illness identification for primary care workers in high risk Indigenous communities, including:
  • $34.59 million (2006–07 to 2013–14) for the Improving the Capacity of Workers in Indigenous Communities initiative. The measure supports development and delivery of mental health training to front-line staff in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Medical Services, substance use services and social and emotional wellbeing services; and

  • $37.4 million (2007–08 to 2010–11). Australian Nurse Family Partnership Program (ANFPP). The ANFPP supports mothers of Indigenous children to access services providing targeted support around issues such as substance use, mental health and suicide.
The Government will continue to work with states and territories to address these recommendations and will refer them to the Australian Health Ministers' Advisory Conference for consideration where appropriate.

Footnotes

14 National Safe Schools Framework, Department of Employment, Education and Workplace Relations: Canberra
15 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. 2007. Rural, regional and remote health: a study on mortality (2nd edition). AIHW: Canberra. PDF Available on the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare website (www.aihw.gov.au)