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Upstream community-led actions reduce suicide rates by up to 17%

Suicide deaths leave families, friends, workplaces and communities devastated. But a new study conducted by the University of Melbourne for Wesley Mission demonstrates the effectiveness of community Networks to reduce the rate of suicide by seven per cent on average. Longitudinal analyses of national suicide data showed that this pattern of effects was most pronounced nine months after establishing the Network with a significant reduction of 17 per cent in suicide rates.

Wesley LifeForce Suicide Prevention Networks program was established in 2007 with support from the Federal Government’s National Suicide Prevention Leadership and Support Program and has grown to launch more than 100 local community groups across Australia in areas of greatest concern.

Wesley Mission CEO Rev Stu Cameron stressed the importance of engaging the community to address suicide, saying, “The causes of suicide are multifactorial incorporating psychological, biological, as well as social and environmental vulnerabilities. And so it follows that preventing suicide requires a holistic and multifaceted approach.

“Some of the highest rates of suicide in Australia are in rural and remote communities, amongst men, youth and older adults, people from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse populations and a disproportionate incidence for First Nations peoples. Complex factors affecting these at-risk groups show that a medical model of suicide is incomplete and the need for community-led actions.”

The findings of the two-phase evaluation provided clear evidence of positive perceived impacts and outcomes of Wesley LifeForce Networks for members and communities, including:

  • Improved community knowledge and awareness of support services
  • Increased community confidence and capacity to help someone at risk of suicide
  • Greater coordination and collaboration between Networks and service providers
  • Reduced stigma regarding suicide, which in turn facilitated help-seeking
  • Empowering people with a lived experience of suicide
  • Stronger sense of community connection.

Dr Lennart Reifels, the study lead from the Centre for Mental Health in the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, says, “Longitudinal analyses of ultimate Network outcomes based on 17 years of national suicide data for 60 Networks across Australia indicated a significant reduction in the overall suicide rate following Network introduction.

“Wesley LifeForce Networks focus on upstream measures which are aiming to build stronger and more resilient communities, who are more willing to seek support and support each other while providing a vehicle for people with a lived experience of suicide to positively effect change.”

As local, grassroots initiatives supported through an overarching national program, Wesley LifeForce Networks can complement other regional suicide prevention initiatives provided by Primary Health Networks, which are more intensely focused on service provision and coordination.

James Bell, Wesley LifeForce Group Manager, acknowledges the significant contribution of the more than 2,500 motivated Network volunteers representing the diverse range of Australian communities.

“The community has an essential role to play in preventing suicide. Local people are best positioned to reach families, friends and neighbours who are not connected with support services. When local people are organised and supported, they know the solutions to the problems in their communities.

“The important role that Networks play hasn’t been widely understood, but this evaluation shows that local initiatives and training help to equip people beyond the health sector who may be able to intervene in the earlier stages of distress.”

Dr Lennart Reifels continues, “We need the best available evidence regarding what works and what doesn’t work in suicide prevention, and this can only come through sound research. This evaluation provides clear evidence of positive outcomes and recommendations to bolster and further build community capacity.”

Wesley LifeForce Networks provide a vehicle to foster broader engagement in suicide prevention and strengthen the coordination of suicide prevention efforts within and across local communities.

With relatively modest seed funding, the resulting impacts for Network members and local communities demonstrated strong local linkages and positive partnerships with service providers. Networks can mobilise additional resources for suicide prevention and engage with communities in ways that would not otherwise have been possible.

“Effective suicide prevention requires a whole-of-government and whole-of-community response. Wesley LifeForce Suicide Prevention Networks and the thousands of highly engaged volunteer members are well-positioned to play a role in the reforms recommended in the Final Advice of the National Suicide Prevention Adviser to Government,” says Rev Stu Cameron.

Wesley LifeForce Networks in action:

Shyam – Power of Us Network, Kenmore QLD
“We began Power of Us after I lost my 24-year-old son to suicide in 2017. Two other young people aged 21 and 26 in our community had also taken their lives. Everyone was saying that something had to be done. A number of young people came forward, and they continue to help provide leadership to our Network. Our young people are effective in reaching their peers.

“Together, we lead workshops, participate in community events and host seminars online to reduce stigma. Within our Brisbane South-Asian community, more people are starting to participate. We are helping to build resilience through positive mental health and support.”

Trent – Derby Suicide Prevention Network, Kimberley region WA
“The reality is that for people in rural and remote regions, there’s not enough support. Our Network is focused on education and awareness of the available services.

“The leadership of our Network is just over half Indigenous people, similar to our town, and we’ve all come from various places in life. Working together, everyone has something to contribute. You learn what each other is capable of and how we can help each other.”

Media contact for interviews:

Anne Holt | Wesley Mission | 0418 628

About Wesley LifeForce

Established in 1995, Wesley LifeForce began to respond to the growing number of suicide deaths in Australia. Today 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.

Wesley LifeForce Suicide Prevention Networks is the only nationally operating program of its kind in Australia or internationally. With more than 100 local Networks with a presence in each state and representing a membership of more than 2,600 volunteers.

About the Centre for Mental Health at The University of Melbourne

The Centre for Mental Health was established in the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health at The University of Melbourne in 2013 with the aim to improve mental health and mitigate the impact of mental illness at a population level. It does this through conducting high quality, collaborative, interdisciplinary research, academic teaching, professional and community education and mental health system development.

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