National suicide prevention strategies in Australia

Preventing suicide is an agreed national policy priority. Significant reforms have occurred in Australia in the area of suicide prevention and it is agreed that an all-of-government response is required. To assist understanding the different layers of national policy, strategy, plans and frameworks, a summary has been provided with links to greater detail.

The Fifth National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan (2017) and corresponding Implementation Plan were endorsed by COAG Health Council on 4 August 2017. It is a cross-jurisdictional plan that builds on the foundation established by previous reform efforts and a broad consultation process. It sets out a national approach for collaborative government effort over the next five years and aligns with the significant mental health reforms occurring in Australia by building on the foundations of the state and territory mental health and suicide prevention plans.

The eight priority areas within the plan that set direction for change and long-term reform are:

  • achieving integrated regional planning and service delivery
  • effective suicide prevention
  • coordinating treatment and supports for people with severe and complex mental illness
  • improving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health and suicide prevention
  • improving the physical health of people living with mental illness and reducing early mortality
  • reducing stigma and discrimination
  • making safety and quality central to mental health service delivery
  • ensuring that the enablers of effective system performance and system improvement are in place.

The Living is for Everyone Framework

The Living is for Everyone (LIFE) Framework sets an overarching evidence based strategic policy framework for suicide prevention in Australia.

The revised 2007 framework provides support for national action to prevent suicide and promote mental health and resilience across the Australian population. It provides a practical suite of resources and research finding on how to address the complex issues of suicide and suicide prevention.

The framework is a resource designed to lead health and community services professionals, policy, political and academic personnel in suicide prevention strategy and action.

The six action areas of the framework are:

  1. improving the evidence base and understanding of suicide prevention
  2. building individual resilience and the capacity for self-help
  3. improving community strength, resilience and capacity in suicide prevention
  4. taking a coordinated approach to suicide prevention
  5. providing targeted suicide prevention activities
  6. implementing standards and quality in suicide prevention.

National Suicide Prevention Leadership and Support Program

The National Suicide Prevention Leadership and Support Program is a key component of the renewed approach to suicide prevention. The Program facilitates leadership, collaboration and strategic partnerships to build the evidence base and action on suicide prevention initiatives within Australia.

The Australian Government granted $43 million in funding for the Program within five activity areas over a three year period until June 2019. In September 2018 the federal government extended funding of the program with an additional $36 million through to 2021 ($79.9 million total funding for the program).

Life in Mind is funded under Activity Four of the Department of Health’s National Suicide Prevention Leadership and Support Programme: National Media and Communications.

The activity schedule is as follows:

Australia’s Long Term National Health Plan

In August 2019 the Australian Government Department of Health released Australia’s Long Term National Health Plan.  

The Long Term National Health Plan focuses on Australian healthcare for a 10 year period and includes the 2030 mental health vision. The Plan also includes a new mental health strategy for children under 12 years of age.
The Plan contains four pillars of health care covering primary care, public and private hospital preventative health, and medical research. Mental health care and suicide prevention is a key priority throughout the document.
In addition to the release of the Long Term National Health Plan, The Australian Government has increased funding for mental health and suicide for the period 2019 to 2020 to $5.3 billion. A significant addition to funding is the sum of $1.45 billion to Primary Health Networks over three years to plan and commission mental health services at a regional level. This will enable them to improve primary mental health care services, mental health promotion, prevention and early intervention, psychosocial support, and suicide prevention in their region.
Read more about Australia’s Long Term National Health Plan  

National Suicide Prevention Strategy

The National Suicide Prevention Strategy (NSPS) provides the platform for Australia's national policy on suicide prevention with an emphasis on promotion, prevention and early intervention. 

In November 2015, as part of its response to the National Mental Health Commission Review of mental health programs, the Australian Government announced a renewed approach to suicide prevention through the establishment of a new National Suicide Prevention Strategy.

The new strategy involves:

  1. a systems-based regional approach to suicide prevention led by Primary Health Networks (PHNs) in partnership with Local Hospital Networks, states and territories, and other local organisations with funding available through a flexible funding pool
  2. national leadership and support activity, including whole of population activity and crisis support services
  3. refocussed efforts to prevent suicide in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, taking into account the recommendations of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide prevention strategy
  4. joint commitment by the Australian Government and states and territories, including in the context of The fifth national mental health plan, to prevent suicide and ensure that people who have self-harmed or attempted suicide are given effective follow-up support.

PHNs have been tasked with commissioning regionally appropriate suicide prevention activities and services from 1 July 2016. PHNs will also work with Local Hospital Networks and other local organisations to support better targeting of people as risk of suicide.

The regional approach led by PHNs focuses on effective local coordination and management, and allows for recognition of each community's suicide prevention needs and strengths. In addition to this, 11 PHNs have been selected to lead 12 suicide prevention trial sites that will  run for four years from 2016-17 to 2019-20 and receive Australian Government funding of up to $4 million.

The national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide prevention strategy

The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide prevention strategy focuses on early intervention measures with the aim of building strong communities through community focused and integrated approaches to suicide prevention. The strategy comprises a holistic view of mental, physical, cultural and spiritual health.

The strategy presents six action areas:

  1. building strengths and capacity in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
  2. building strengths and resilience in individuals and families
  3. targeted suicide prevention services.
  4. coordinating approaches to prevention
  5. building the evidence base and disseminating information
  6. standards and quality in suicide prevention.

The action areas of the Strategy reciprocate the principles and frameworks outlined within The National Strategic Framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ Mental Health and Social and Emotional Wellbeing 2017-2023. This national framework includes nine guiding principles for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, which in turn align with and complement the priority areas of The Fifth National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan (2017).

Both the National Strategic Framework and Suicide Prevention Strategy are supported by the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan 2013-2023, which provides a long term, evidence based policy framework as part of the Council of Australian Governments’ (COAG) approach to Closing the Gap in Indigenous Disadvantage. The plan addresses a range of health priorities including health enablers such as a culturally respectful and non-discriminatory health system, physical and chronic disease, and mental health and social and emotional wellbeing, and is based on a comprehensive holistic approach to health. These documents guide and complement the National Primary Health Care Strategic Framework (2013) to address the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples residing within specific PHNs.

The National LGBTI Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Strategy

The National LGBTI Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Strategy outlines effective mental health and suicide prevention strategy for LGBTI people and communities. In Australia, the initials LGBTI to refer collectively to people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or intersex. LBGTI people and populations comprise 11% of the Australian population. The strategy:

1.      clearly identifies effective mental health and suicide prevention strategies for LGBTI people and communities across Australia

2.      sets an agenda for coordinated action and a commitment to the prevention of mental ill-health and suicide for LGBTI people and communities

3.      frames future promotion of mental health and wellbeing for LGBTI people by both specialist and mainstream agencies, as well as Australian society as a whole

4.      commits to the appropriate resourcing of the above through articulated and achievable goals.

National Mental Health and Wellbeing Pandemic Response Plan

The National Mental Health Commission welcomes the National Cabinet’s commitment to support and respond to the National Mental Health and Wellbeing Pandemic Response Plan.

Australians, including those in the mental health sector, have been agile in responding to the needs exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Improvements during the first two months include the rapid expansion of digital services and a seismic shift to telehealth delivery of mental health services, innovative community based models of care, more agile coordination between primary and acute care, expanded engagement with people with lived experience, and the recognition of the importance of social and associated needs such as housing for those who are homeless. Appropriate systemic and service gains should be retained, and the lessons learned must inform and underpin the ongoing response of Governments. It is imperative that we use this disruptive period in our mental health services as the opportunity to address these challenges to respond to the current pandemic. In Australia’s federated model, this is only possible with the commitment and action of all Australian governments.