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Impact of record suicide prevention funding can be maximised by local networks

In the last ten years, Australian communities have experienced an increase in the rates of suicide. In 2018, there were 105,730 years of life lost to suicide, stealing more years from our friends and families than any other cause of death.

The Morrison Government’s announcement to invest $64 million in funding for five suicide prevention measures represents an important increase in response to this devastating trend.

Wesley Mission CEO, the Rev Keith V Garner AM said, “We welcome the government’s commitment to suicide prevention as a national priority. To ensure this record funding saves lives it needs to reach individuals locally, before it’s too late.”

“Effective suicide prevention requires a whole of government and whole of community response. Wesley Mission is a leader in clinical mental health treatment, but to address the complexity of suicide we have long advocated for and invested in strategies to address suicide in local communities. These reforms mark the beginning of an important shift that embraces this approach.

“Wesley Mission has been proactive in linking up our mental health, suicide prevention, aged care, homelessness and child and family services on joint suicide prevention projects. Importantly, we have gathered concerned community members and those with lived experience to form active, local groups across the country.”

With a presence in every state, focusing on areas where the problem of suicide hits the hardest, Wesley LifeForce Networks are community-led working groups addressing suicide at a local level. So far, there are 108 groups in communities across Australia representing a membership of more than 2,664 people. New networks are being established every year through the support of the Commonwealth Government and Primary Health Networks.

Wesley LifeForce Networks represent the diverse range of Australian communities including groups in rural and remote areas and groups led by young and First Nations people.

“Local people know the problems in our communities. They are the best people to reach the families, friends and neighbours who will never connect with mental health services. What we are hearing from our communities is that while there are a range of supports available, the ability for individuals to navigate and access services is limiting their impact. When local people are organised and supported they know the solutions to these problems. It is time we listened,” said Mr Garner.

In October 2019, Wesley LifeForce brought together leaders from its networks, including 38 communities that had been affected by drought, for a two day focus group to share effective local strategies.

Through a survey of network members and in consultation with leaders in drought affected communities a report was produced that was provided to the National Mental Health Commission as part of the consultation that led to the funding announcement. The report pointed to the need for increased collaboration to maximise the current, fragmented health system’s ability to address the problem of suicide in local communities.

“More funding applied at the regional level may not get to where the need is. Local initiatives and training help equip people beyond the health sector who may be able to intervene quickly when someone is at risk,” Mr Garner said.

The suicide prevention training provided by Wesley LifeForce Training has been evaluated to be robust and effective by the Australian Institute of Suicide Research and Prevention (AISRAP), with participants demonstrating “increased perceived capability, positive attitudes and reduced reluctance” to intervene.

Mr Garner continued, “We welcome the additional investment to support some of those most at risk including people who are currently facing a suicidal crisis, those who have been recently hospitalised after a suicide attempt and increased support for people bereaved by suicide. And we continue to call for the government to further invest in preventative community measures that can be effective before the point of crisis.”

“Going beyond this initial response to target support to local community initiatives which are reinforced by quality and evidenced suicide prevention education is an important next step.

“The community have an essential role to play in preventing suicide. Our networks are made up of highly engaged, passionate individuals. If you invite Wesley Mission to the table we can provide the connection to 108 groups and their thousands of members who have the local connections, knowledge and insight that will maximise the impact of this investment.”

About Wesley LifeForce

Established in 1995, Wesley LifeForce began as a response to the growing number of suicide deaths in Australia. It is a national program providing suicide prevention services that educate and empower local communities, supporting people most at risk. More than 40,000 people have been trained through the program. For further information click here.


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