General practices can play a vital role in suicide prevention

COORDINARE (South Eastern NSW PHN) and the Black Dog Institute have joined forces and are working with general practices in the Illawarra Shoalhaven to introduce a new mental health screening and support package to better equip general practices with the skills and resources to identify and support people in distress. The intervention forms part of the LifeSpan systems-approach to suicide prevention research trial taking place across NSW.

According to Dr Fiona Shand, Director of LifeSpan at The Black Dog Institute people with suicidal behaviour frequently visit primary care physicians in the weeks or days before suicide, which makes GPs ideal candidates to identify suicidality, even in those not reporting distress.

"Up to 45% of individuals who died by suicide saw their GP within one month prior to their death, and up to 20% saw their GP within one week before death," said Dr Shand

"Excellent GP care has been shown to significantly decrease deaths and attempts, particularly when integrated into a multifaceted suicide prevention program, such as the Lifespan systems approach.

"The decrease in total suicide rates related to excellent GP care for suicide is between 22% and 73%, suggesting that education and capacity building for primary health care professionals is one of the most promising interventions to reduce suicide rates," said Dr Shand.

This project provides GPs with access to StepCare – a universal screening tool which is used to screen every adult patient who attends a general practice and detect those who are at-risk who may otherwise be missed.

"Early evaluation of StepCare shows that thoughts of death or self-harm are relatively common amongst people presenting to general practices. Half of these people were not attending the GP visit for mental health reasons, and 40% of which had never gone to a GP for their mental health. Clearly StepCare is working and has the potential to make a big difference," said Dr Fiona Shand.

In the Illawarra Shoalhaven, 14 general practices have expressed an interest in participating in this project.

"Three practices including Thirroul Medical Practice, Better Care Medical Centre in Fairy Meadow and Terralong Street Surgery in Kiama have already successfully started the program, with more coming online shortly," said Dianne Kitcher, CEO of COORDINARE – South Eastern NSW PHN.

"We’re also working with these practices to provide suicide prevention training for all general practice staff," said Ms Kitcher.

General practices interested in providing this new service can contact COORDINARE on 1300 069 002.