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Better health training needed to prevent suicide

SANE Australia
Photo: Better training needed: SANE Australia
Improved training for health professionals will work to make an impact on Australia’s suicide rates, according to SANE Australia.

The national mental health charity states most health professionals, including psychologists and GPs, do not receive specific training about suicide with on-the-job training usually focusing on risk assessment tools or crisis intervention.

“Most health professionals rely on suicide risk assessment tools that ask people about whether they are having suicidal thoughts and if they have made a plan to act,” it said in a statement.

“These tools are extremely poor at predicting suicide with the majority of people who go on to take their life being assessed as at low risk.

“There is a serious lack of education about how to prevent a suicidal crisis, or how to talk to people about their suicidal feelings.”

SANE Australia CEO Jack Heath said improved training, a better understanding of suicide attempts and a national effort to reduce the stigma surrounding suicide could make a real impact on the nation’s suicide rates.

“While it is an extremely complex issue, we must always remember that suicide is preventable,” he said.

“In particular, we need to understand better the experiences of people who have attempted suicide.

“We know that many people’s main motivation for attempting to take their own life is to put an end to what they feel is an unbearable pain and sense of hopelessness.”

The statement, to mark World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10, comes as the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show Australia experienced the highest suicide rate in 10 years in 2012, with 2535 lives lost to suicide.

The recently released World Health Organisation (WHO) report, Preventing Suicide: A Global Imperative, shows more than 800,000 people commit suicide every year - which equates to around one person every 40 seconds.

The report, WHO’s first global report on suicide prevention, shows 75 per cent of suicides occur in low to middle-income countries.

“This report is a call for action to address a large public health problem which has been shrouded in taboo for far too long,” WHO director-general Dr Margaret Chan said in a statement.

SANE, a founding member of the National Suicide Prevention Coalition, said it’s also vital to train GPs to detect suicidal thoughts and behaviours with statistics showing 80 per cent of people who commit suicide visit their doctor in the weeks leading up to their death.

The organisation recently released research that shows well-presenting people who have survived a suicide attempt have encountered dismissive and negative attitudes in the health sector.

The research, conducted with the University of England, found judgemental attitudes still exist among some allied health professionals, nurses and doctors when it comes to treating people who have attempted suicide.

For help with suicide prevention call Lifeline on 13 11 14, Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 and SANE Australia Helpline on 1800 18 7263

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Karen Keast

Karen Keast is a freelance health journalist who writes news and feature articles for HealthTimes.

Karen regularly writes for some of Australia’s leading health news websites and magazines.  In a media career spanning 20 years, Karen has worked as a senior journalist in newspapers and television. She has covered the grind of daily news and worked as a politics reporter at countless state and federal elections.

Since venturing into freelance writing five years ago, Karen has found her niche in writing about the health sector for editors, businesses and corporations.

Karen has interviewed the heads of peak health organisations in Australia and overseas, and written hundreds of news and feature articles covering the dedicated work of health professionals who tread the corridors of hospitals and health services, universities, aged care facilities and practices, day in and day out.

Follow Karen Keast on Twitter @stylemywords