The Turnbull government is extending a multimillion-dollar suicide prevention trial targeting 12 places in Australia where residents are at a higher than average risk of taking their own lives, including north-western Melbourne, northern Queensland and Tasmania.
The national suicide prevention plan was launched in 2016 with funding of $36 million and was slated to run until June next year.
Health Minister Greg Hunt says suicide statistics in Australia are “unacceptable” and the government will do all it can to reverse them.
Health Minister Greg Hunt will announce on Monday the trials will be extended by a year to June 30, 2020, with a budget boost of $13 million.
Among the strategies being implemented are education programs in schools, improved healthcare after suicide attempts and e-health programs, including iPad surveys in doctors’ waiting rooms allowing patients to indicate discreetly if they are in need of support.
“Each year around 3000 Australians take their lives and the suicide rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders is around twice that of non-Indigenous people,” Mr Hunt said.
“These statistics are unacceptable and we will continue to do all we can to reverse them.”
The program is administered by primary health networks – which bring together GPs and other health providers, such as hospitals, in 31 areas across Australia – and is based in Darwin, the Kimberley, western NSW, mid-west Western Australia, north Brisbane, north coast NSW, north-western Melbourne, south Perth, northern Queensland, Tasmania and country South Australia.
Mr Hunt said preventing suicide was a “complex problem and a one-size-fits-all strategy for dealing with the challenge may not be the best approach”.
“The resources needed to tackle suicide in a regional farming community in drought may be very different to the resources needed to tackle suicide in inner city Melbourne,” he said.
Each trial site will receive an additional $1 million. The Black Dog Institute and the University of Melbourne, which are supporting the program, will also receive additional funding.
Helen Christensen, a professor of mental health at the University of NSW and director and chief scientist at the Black Dog Institute, said “the role of Black Dog is to help guide [primary health networks] with the sorts of activities that are likely to make a difference”.
She said a number of sites had taken up “what is known as the lifespan model”, incorporating nine evidence-based strategies for preventing suicide, including youth awareness programs in schools, training people working with children and older Australians to identify warning signs, and after-care in cases where a person had attempted suicide.
“Around 50 per cent of people after a suicide attempt get no after-care at all – they’re not even contacted,” Professor Christensen said.
“Of those who are contacted, for more than half of them it’s less than 15 minutes. We’re absolutely failing people in after-care. It’s a major intervention that has been shown in trials to reduce the number of suicides.”
A number of sites had also taken up a Black Dog initiative involving the use of iPads in GP waiting rooms to help identify people “who won’t actually say that they’ve got depression or they’re feeling really bad”.
“They fill in a questionnaire and then that information is given to their GP through the dashboard on their computer,” Professor Christensen said.
“They can then initiate a conversation and those people can get automated e-health programs … or they can be given face-to-face psychological services if they’re available.”
Mr Hunt said the findings of trial sites “will be used in developing future responses to suicide prevention across Australia”