The role of GPs in suicide prevention in rural Australia

Posted 28th November 2023 in Sector news

Access to healthcare in Australia can be challenging for people and communities living in rural and regional areas. Compared to metropolitan Australia, regional areas may have fewer services provided including limited mental health services. General Practitioners (GPs) working in rural and regional Australia are a common point of call for Australians who are living in these areas and experiencing mental health concerns and suicidal thoughts or behaviours.

Recruitment and retention of health staff, including GPs, psychologists and service providers, are challenges in regional and remote communities. According to data from the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners there were 88.6 and 71.3 GPs per 100,000 population in outer-regional and remote areas respectively, compared to 101.3 GPs per 100,000 population in major cities.

Relatedly, there are challenges in accessing services. In 2016 to 2017, people living in remote areas accessed Medicare funded services at a rate of 81 encounters per 1,000 people. In metro areas, it is 495 encounters per 1,000 people.

GPs play an essential role in suicide prevention in rural and remote areas. However, with recruitment issues, long waiting lists, and large areas to service, it’s more important than ever that GPs are provided with the skills and training to properly identify, assess, and treat suicidal thoughts and behaviours in a range of different patients. GP appointments are often short in time (averaging 15 minutes) which can make it difficult for a GP to identify signs of suicidal thoughts and behaviours.

It’s vital that GPs are alert to changes in a person’s behaviour or thought patterns and feel comfortable performing a suicide assessment. For people with known risks for suicide, a periodic assessment may be beneficial.

Black Dog Institute offers advanced training in suicide prevention which is suitable for GPs, GP registrars, psychologists and allied health professionals. The course aims to increase GPs’ skills to diagnose and treat common mental health concerns, learn how to contribute to suicide prevention, and teach GPs about evidence-based approaches to treatment planning.

In addition, Black Dog Institute’s Suicide Prevention Team is currently offering two programs that are open to GPs. The Suicide Prevention Capacity Building Program is an evidence-based program consisting of five workshops that build shared suicide prevention capacity in a local area. This program focuses on key areas of suicide prevention including systems-approaches, collaboration, data, lived experience, priority populations, and evaluation. The program also welcomes a range of participants from different sectors, including GPs. The workshops are led by Black Dog Institute trained facilitators, with a member from the Suicide Prevention Team present to answer specific questions and provide additional information.

The Suicide Prevention Network is an online community of almost 300 members, who share an interest in suicide prevention and can be joined by GPs. The Suicide Prevention Network houses a variety of resources, news articles, and research publications on suicide prevention, and a Community of Practice event is held every month that focuses on a particular area of suicide prevention, for example, suicide prevention for older people. GPs are encouraged to reach out to the team to discuss membership to the Suicide Prevention Network or participation in the Suicide Prevention Capacity Building Program.

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