Scoping study for suicide prevention training for health professionals in NSW
Mental Health and Drug and Alcohol Office, NSW Ministry of Health
Duration: May 2015 – July 2015
People at risk of suicide are known to present to generalist health (i.e. non-mental-health) services before they are at the point of attempting suicide. This highlights the importance of these health services in being aware of potential risk factors and signs of suicidal thoughts and behaviours, and being able to support and/or refer suicidal individuals for appropriate expert assistance. NSW Health commissioned a scoping study to investigate the current status of suicide prevention education and training for health professionals working in public sector settings, to identify current best practice in suicide prevention training, and to present options and recommendations for developing an effective strategy for training development and implementation.
What we did
The project comprised two main activities: a targeted literature review of academic and grey literature; and interviews with 26 key informants across a range of stakeholder groups. It was an information-gathering exercise for the purpose of informing policy and practice on suicide prevention training in NSW Health facilities, not a comprehensive study of the subject or a systematic literature review.
The project team developed a scoping survey to gather information relevant to the project aims. This questionnaire was designed to elicit the views of stakeholders on key questions such as needs and priorities for suicide prevention training in NSW and appropriate quality and accreditation criteria. It provided the basis for telephone interviews using a semi-structured interview format. A selected group of stakeholders, including representatives from NSW Local Health Districts, suicide prevention experts at key research institutes and non-government organisations, health professionals, representative groups and external training providers, including the university sector, were sought. The sampling strategy was designed to capture the full range of relevant knowledge and opinions.
A targeted and selective search of the peer-reviewed academic literature was conducted to identify evidence relevant to suicide prevention training. In addition, an internet-based search of current suicide prevention education and training available to non-mental health professionals was conducted. The search strategy covered government and non-government strategic documents and reports, documents from universities and non-government training providers, and training resources produced by peak bodies and consumer groups.
The project identified a number of well-supported ‘gatekeeper’ training programs currently being delivered in NSW, numerous other established programs that could be more widely used in this state, and several locally developed suicide prevention training programs that show promise, subject to further rigorous evaluation. Health organisations seeking to commission external training would benefit from easier access to information about the available options, the quality of providers and the evidence base of particular programs.
In the interviews, experts nominated a range of public sector health settings in which suicide training would be valuable, and had clear views regarding the essential content of such training. Most felt that in-service training in the public health system should be accessible, mandatory and regularly refreshed or ‘topped up’. Deeper and more frequent training would be needed depending on the person’s role and level of exposure to suicidal individuals in the course of their duties. Initiatives to formalise provision of suicide prevention training for health professionals in public sector settings are most likely to succeed when integrated within a broader policy and practice framework.