Managing depression, the focus of new suicide prevention strategy

WA Primary Health Alliance’s Suicide Prevention Strategy 2023-2025 outlines a systems-based approach to commissioning activities and services, targeting the primary mental health care sector and general practice, in particular.

At the heart of the strategy is the European Alliance Against Depression, which has at its core a GP-centric depression management program.

This is because depression is highly correlated with suicidal behaviour, and accounts for the highest population attributed risk for suicide, [1] and GPs consistently report that depression and anxiety are two of the most common conditions they manage.

WA Primary Health Alliance will target activities to those communities with the greatest identified need, based on comprehensive data collection and analysis, and, importantly, where all four components of the systems-based model can be applied.

Initially, we will prioritise communities within Swan, Armadale, Goldfields-Esperance and Bunbury-Manjimup regions, a number of which are supported by a Head to Health Centre. Additional community capacity building activities will be available to communities in other regions.

WA Primary Health Alliance CEO, Learne Durrington, said the data confirms a GP is the health professional accessed most often when people need support with their mental health.

“We really want to provide tools that offer GPs and clinicians the opportunity to guide mental health referrals and promote shared decision making, while enhancing the safety net and access to services for consumers.”

Education in depression management and suicidality, and training to increase awareness of local referral and treatment pathways and networks using the Initial Assessment and Referral Decision Support Tool (IAR-DST) will be offered to GPs.

“Not only do we want to improve the experience of people who access mental health care through their general practice, we also want to empower individuals and communities to recognise the signs of depression and to seek help as early as possible.

“Increasing public awareness of depression, increasing capacity in the community to recognise, respond and refer people to seek help, and supporting people most at-risk including families and friends are all vital to this approach.”

WA Primary Health Alliance will engage with and include input from people with lived experience of depression and suicidal behaviour, particularly where new campaigns or initiatives are being commissioned, ensuring activities and outcomes are appropriate for the target populations.

“Importantly, we are also collaborating with the WA Mental Health Commission to ensure the finite resources that are available reach the most vulnerable communities and improve the way people access and receive care in their community,” Ms Durrington said.

To support the rollout of the strategy, WA Primary Health Alliance has received funding from the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care for Targeted Regional Initiatives for Suicide Prevention.

[1] Chesney E, Goodwin GM, Fazel S. Risks of all-cause and suicide mortality in mental disorders: a metareview. World Psychiatry Off J World Psychiatr Assoc WPA. 2014 Jun; 13(2):153–60.