New suicide prevention education program to unite alcohol and other drugs sector

Posted 23rd April 2024

By Annie Lewis, Content and Communications Manager at SafeSide Prevention

Suicide risk is influenced by a range of social, economic and personal factors. The use of alcohol and drugs significantly increase risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviours, and are often present in people who have died by suicide.1, 2 Suicide risk is further increased if an individual experiences both mental health concerns or mental illness, and alcohol and other drug use challenges.

The experiences of those accessing services for mental health concerns and alcohol and drug use tell us that many consumers are shuffled between mental health services and drug and alcohol services.

The Illawarra Shoalhaven Suicide Prevention Collaborative (the Collaborative) identified a need within the region to support people experiencing mental health concerns and alcohol and other drug use challenges, to approach suicide risk in a coordinated, person-centred way.

The launch of a newly adapted suicide prevention learning program will target the gap in education on how to care for people who are shuffled between services for mental health and alcohol and drug use.

Funded by COORDINARE -South Eastern NSW PHN, the Collaborative partnered with SafeSide Prevention to develop the SafeSide Program for Suicide Prevention – Alcohol and Other Drugs.

This new program applies the SafeSide Framework and contextualises the education specifically for the alcohol and other drugs workforce.

The new educational program was developed with representatives from the alcohol and other drug sector, and with people who have lived and living experience of suicidal thoughts and behaviours, and alcohol and drug use.

The Lived Experience Coordinator for the Illawarra Shoalhaven Suicide Prevention Collaborative at COORDINARE, Jay Gardener said it was a gift to be a part of the effort in breaking down the silos of the system so that true integrated, person-centred care models could emerge.

Mx Gardener says that workers across both mental health and drug and alcohol services were not able to ‘hold the risk’ of someone’s suicidal thoughts and behaviours, and the service users ended up being bounced around services.

“We had evidence from our multidisciplinary suicide prevention workforce that the SafeSide model had been working well in our local mental health services, so we were keen to use this common, shared language to create more opportunities for holistic regional care” Mx Gardener said.

Mx Gardener said that it was important that all stakeholders involved in development of the framework could work together to meaningfully include the voices of those with lived and living experience of suicide, alcohol, and drug recovery, workforce representatives, and decision-makers across these levels.

Jo Telenta, Manager Service Development & Performance - Alcohol & Other Drugs at COORDINARE – South Eastern NSW PHN is pleased to be able to showcase this work across the PHN region.

“The Collaborative has identified a gap in the way services work together across our PHN region and we are pleased to be part of this co-designed solution that will not only support the AOD workforce across the region, but ultimately also our consumers,” Ms Telenta said.

SafeSide Program Manager Antonia Ravesi stated, “There is a clear need for a better response to the mental health needs of our diverse communities to proactively reduce the numbers of people developing acute mental health concerns and dying from suicide.

“The customised SafeSide Training Program for the AOD sector is a much-needed resource which will contribute to reducing stigma and discrimination, enhance the
capacity of the AOD workforce and ultimately improve the experience for people experiencing suicidal distress.”

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Chong DG, Buckley NA, Schumann JL, Chitty KM. Acute alcohol use in Australian coronial suicide cases, 2010-2015. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2020 Jul 1;212:108066. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2020.108066. Epub 2020 May 15. PMID: 32473536.


Rizk MM, Herzog S, Dugad S, Stanley B. Suicide Risk and Addiction: The Impact of Alcohol and Opioid Use Disorders. Curr Addict Rep. 2021;8(2):194-207. doi: 10.1007/s40429-021-00361-z. Epub 2021 Mar 14. PMID: 33747710; PMCID: PMC7955902.

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