In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, members of the Special Interest Group (SIG) on the Development of Effective National Suicide Prevention Strategy & Practice were invited to report on recent pandemic-related developments in national suicide prevention programmes. We gratefully acknowledge the contributions of the following members of the SIG: Jane Pirkis, Jaelea Skehan, Alys Cole-King (Australia); Jerry Reed and Richard McKeon (USA); Paulius Skruibis (Lithuania); and Diana Altavilla (Argentina).
In Australia, the National Suicide Prevention Adviser has called on the input of the Expert Advisory Group (EAG), whose membership includes lived experience, clinical, research, policy, cultural and community expertise in suicide prevention. The Commonwealth government was proactive in announcing a mental health package early and many states have announced their own initiatives to boost supports. These have included initiatives such as: funding for a dedicated COVID-19 mental health and wellbeing services; increased funding for crisis lines such as Lifeline and Kids Helpline; funding to increase outreach and support to older Australians; and funding for vulnerable (including Indigenous and culturally and linguistically diverse) populations. In May the National Cabinet adopted the National Mental Health and Wellbeing Pandemic Response Plan, with $48.1 million allocated to implement immediate actions. Led by the National Mental Health Commission in collaboration with all jurisdictions and in consultation with stakeholders across the sector, this plan provides a roadmap for addressing population mental health and wellbeing needs. Suicide Prevention is one of ten priority areas within the plan.
4 Mental Health has been engaged by the New South Wales Ministry of Health to train government and non-government staff working in public-facing roles in Connecting With People. This training has been shaped and co-produced with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experts to ensure the incorporation of an appropriate, holistic concept of social and emotional wellbeing. There is an emphasis on the importance of compassion and understanding towards those in distress, the value of connectedness, building wellbeing and resilience and an introduction to safety planning using StayingSafe.net.
In its role as national convener and consensus builder, the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention (Action Alliance) in the USA has mobilised a single, coordinated national mental health and suicide prevention response effort to address both short- and long-term potential impacts of COVID-19. The Action Alliance has coalesced and harnessed the power of federal agencies, corporations and other non-governmental groups in the Mental Health & Suicide Prevention Response to COVID-19, aimed at identifying action-oriented solutions to ensure the U.S. emerges strong and more effective than before the pandemic. As this pandemic evolves, the National Response Effort Steering Committee, comprising prestigious public and private sector leaders, will identify additional system-level needs and areas of focus required to mitigate risk and strengthen mental health and suicide prevention infrastructure.
The Lithuanian Government has approved an action plan to deal with long-term consequences of COVID-19 for mental health. The plan includes employing 200 new psychologists in the health care system, lowering the threshold of psychological support, introducing mobile crisis teams, training mental health professionals in depression, anxiety and trauma treatment, training in suicide assessment and management, strengthening helplines and chat services, and expanding psychological services for children.
In Argentina, the Ministry of Health and the Directorate of Mental Health and Addictions have been working on the development of a virtual platform providing training in Psychological First Aid, prevention of suicide attempts, psychosocial strengthening, work networks and construction of a collective support network throughout the country. A law on suicide prevention has come into force which will support more effective prevention interventions.
Stephen Platt and Mohsen Rezaeian
Co-chairs, SIG on the Development of Effective National Suicide Prevention Strategy & Practice