Men’s Health Information and Resource Centre

Suicide Prevention Australia: Position Paper On Mental Illness and Suicide

suicideprevention logo 1 This position paper address the link between mental illness and suicide. Mental illness is considered to be a correlated but not causative factor in suicide, so it becomes important when addressing suicide through program and policy implementation to be clear on the link between mental illness and suicidal behaviours. 

"Initiatives that encourage a reduction in stigma and an increase in help-seeking, remain central to minimising the risk of suicide..."
One of the most common myths perpetuated about suicide is that all people who take their own lives have a mental illness.  This paper sets out to provide an informed position on suicide and it makes the connection that mental illness is correlated with suicide but not necessarily a causative factor.

Suicide Prevention Australia's Guiding Principles on Mental Illness and Suicide are:
  • Mental illness is one of the most common and significant contributing factors to suicide in Australia.
  • Suicide prevention strategies aimed at addressing the relationship between mental illness and suicide must focus on appropriate promotion and prevention efforts and treatment options, as well as the settings in which it is possible to ‘reach’ individuals experiencing mental illness and/or suicidal ideation.
  • Improved mental health literacy, matched by the requisite accessibility and affordability of mental health services (‘in the right place, at the right time, using the right approach’), and collaborative initiatives that encourage a reduction in stigma and an increase in help-seeking, remain central to minimising the risk of suicide and self-harm among mentally ill individuals.

The Suicide Prevention Australia Position Paper advocates:

  • Transformation of the existing (mental) health care system away from delivery focused on episodic care in response to acute illness to a more comprehensive system of care focused on prevention and early intervention, and designed to meet the holistic and long-term needs of consumers. This should include consideration of the assignment of a case worker for people with complex needs.
  • Improved education, training and resourcing for primary care physicians, general practitioners and general practice teams to enhance the primacy of team-based, multidisciplinary (mental) health care and early interventions to mental illness and suicidal ideation.
  • Investment in collaborative stepped care services across Australia to minimise the likelihood of hospitalisation for mental illness and to ensure all consumers discharged from acute care have access to appropriate and effective support.
  • Improved inter-agency communications and information-sharing among all systems of care for mentally ill individuals at heightened risk of suicide. 
  • Significantly greater efforts across the Australian community in response to childhood neglect, abuse, loss and trauma to reduce the likelihood of the development of psychological problems and suicide. This relates, in particular, to government policy in early childhood development, child protection and family support. 
  • Investment in national mental health awareness programs to address stigma, mental health literacy and mental health promotion.
  • The development of social networks and other mechanisms for social inclusion for people with mental illness.
  • This should include the systematic introduction of a national community visitors program to ensure immediate and continuing engagement with consumers following discharge from emergency departments for suicide attempts and inpatient psychiatric hospitalisation.
  • Support and collaboration between the mental health system and crisis hotlines or telephone outreach programs and follow-up to ensure individuals at risk of suicide, including those who have made a suicide attempt, can readily access quality crisis support services.
  • Greater education and information regarding care of mentally ill individuals at risk of suicide for caregivers, prior to the discharge of psychiatric clients/patients from hospital. 
  • Greater recognition of the responses and needs of bereaved families and carers, including those aggrieved by a perceived failure of (mental) health care. Improved support mechanisms for mental health services staff, clinicians, and general practitioners following patient suicide. 
  • Significantly increased investment in suicide and suicide prevention research and evaluation.


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