The Life in Mind team spoke to Dr Katie McGill, Suicide Prevention Research Lead, Hunter New England Local Health District; and PhD candidate, University of Newcastle, who shared her highlights from the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) 31st World Congress in September.
Tell us your key areas of interest?
My work is about improving suicide prevention ‘in the real world’. I’m particularly interested in translation of evidence into practice, identifying what works for whom, and building the capacity of local communities (including health services) to drive change. My PhD is about how we can use health service data to inform suicide prevention policy, planning and practice.
What was a key lesson from overseas experience that you feel could inform Australia’s ongoing reform and approach to suicide prevention?
The thing I most enjoy about IASP conferences is hearing from people across the world about the work they are doing in their country. It always broadens my perspective about what the critical issues are, allows me to contextualise where Australian work sits and usually disrupts my sense of what is ‘known’ and ‘unknown’- which is exactly what I want from a conference.
The stand out session that did this for me this time was the Keynote session on Prevention of Female Suicide and Self-Harm where Professor Silvia Canetto, Ms Shelby Rowe and Dr Lakshmi Vijayakumar laid out how our dominant paradigm in suicide prevention is often based on US-centric research and perspectives, unpacking data around female suicide and self-harm in China, on Indigenous people in America, and low-income countries.
How is this relevant to Australian suicide prevention? This session showed how social and cultural constructs and understandings of suicide drive what we do, who and what we prioritise, and how we determine what the potential solutions are in suicide prevention. The clear implication is that change is only possible if we challenge dominant narratives and ways of working. It invites us to lean into the points of suicide prevention reform in Australia that we find uncomfortable and through considering different ways of understanding and approaching suicide we may get to different solutions.
I was really taken with Frank Iorfino’s description of a ‘technology-enabled care coordination’ process whereby we may be able to improve recovery outcomes, reduce waiting list times, and reduce treatment disengagement through an online mechanism that allows people experiencing mental health problems to connect with the right service for the right problem quickly. My first job will be to read the associated paper in detail- and then I’m going to unpack what might be possible locally.
Was there anything surprising (innovation, findings, etc.) you learned from the conference?
While we know the physical health and mental health problems are strongly associated, I was really struck by Anvar Sadath’s comment how, in their study of physical and mental health comorbidities for people presenting with repeated major self-harm, physical pain was rarely routinely documented (or asked about) in the clinical assessment notes - whereas in qualitative interviews, it was a frequent and significant quality of life issue identified by participants. The role of pain as a potential driver of suicidality and self-harm is something we definitely need to understand more.
Read more from Dr Katie McGill: