Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention – Speech – 30 April 2024

Department of Health

Acknowledgements omitted

Check against delivery

It’s an honour to be here on behalf of the Government.

We value the strong and steadfast advocacy which has come from the suicide prevention sector since we took office nearly two years ago.

This conference is a rallying point for that advocacy, and a coming together of leaders across policy, practice and lived experience.

Bringing together this mix of skills and expertise is vital to effective public policy.

As many of you know, I was a practitioner before I was a policymaker, working in acute adult mental health inpatient units at Wyong Hospital on the Central Coast of NSW.

Which is why I am committed to giving voice to those who don’t always get heard in the processes of government and that’s what you’ve been doing for 25 years.

I thank you all for your contributions.

National Suicide Prevention Strategy

Many of you will be aware the National Suicide Prevention Office has been working to develop a national suicide prevention strategy which will build on previous advice to Government to inform concrete actions that can be taken to address the drivers of suicidal distress.

I expect they will be consulting publicly on it soon and, indeed, people in this room have already made significant contributions through consultations and working groups.

Additionally, Proud Spirit Australia is developing a sector-led National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Strategy to set a path to work in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, organisations and communities to reduce the rates of suicide through culturally safe and responsive solutions.

The Strategies will guide much needed action across governments and across communities.

What we have heard so far through discussions and consultations is very familiar to you.

The drivers of psychological or suicidal distress reach deep into our communities.

They expose the fault lines in our lives and the inequalities which we, as a society, too often accept.

The reality is a confluence of economic, cultural and social determinants with individual risk factors, creating risks of suicide.

A whole of government(s) – whole of community – suicide prevention strategy will seek to address these drivers.

It’s no mean feat. The causes of distress are wide ranging and complex.

That is why we are focusing on addressing the drivers of distress including reducing financial pressure through cost-of living relief.

In the health portfolio, major government initiatives are helping ease pressure on Australians: bringing bulk-billing back, supporting the health workforce and growing access to free, quality Medicare urgent care services.

I do want to speak to some specific suicide prevention initiatives which are making a difference on the ground, made possible through a billion-dollar investment in the mental health and suicide prevention system.

There’s funding for digital health services, including crisis support, helplines, and ‘peer warmlines’ where people in distress can call and speak to someone who has been in a similar situation and has a deep understanding of what the caller is going through.

We also fund webchat, clinician-supported online therapy, self-directed education programs and tools, and moderated peer support forums.

This is in addition to almost 40 separate initiatives and projects under the National Suicide Prevention Leadership and Support Program.

I know that many organisations delivering these services are represented here at this conference. Thank you for the important work you are doing.

You may also be familiar with the Targeted Regional Initiatives for Suicide Prevention program, or TRISP.

We have seen this program deliver place-based interventions around Australia, led by community organisations who understand their regions and the challenges local people might face.

That’s why I’m pleased to announce today a renewed commitment of $21 million in the TRISP program, to be delivered nation-wide through the Government’s 31 Primary Health Networks. It includes funding for a Suicide Prevention Regional Response Coordinator in each PHN to lead suicide prevention activities across regions and service providers.

The one-year extension will also focus on translating learnings from the last two years of the Program into building capacity and capability within local communities to prevent suicide.

In addition to this regional approach I do want to emphasise the collaborative nature of our work with state and territory governments in rolling out suicide prevention initiatives, including the South Australian Government.

Through the National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Agreement, the Albanese Government is providing financial contributions of over $225 million towards these initiatives to 30 June 2026.

One of these is the distress brief support trials being established in NSW, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia.

These trials are designed to reflect the experience of people with lived and living experience of distress and suicide.

This model embeds prevention and early intervention by identifying people outside the mental health and suicide prevention system (s) who are experiencing significant and suicidal distress.

The new service model recognises that distress affects different people differently.

That is why a person-centred, connection-focused approach underpins the model.

The trial is based on the Distress Brief Intervention model designed and piloted in Scotland.

While the Scottish program has focused on frontline service settings, such as emergency departments, police and ambulance, the Australian approach looks to respond to people experiencing distress in community settings.

The Scottish program does not explicitly present itself as a ‘mental health’ or ‘suicide prevention’ support. This has made the available support more accessible for people who do not see their needs in these terms.

Taking this valuable learning into the Australian context, the Distress Brief Support trial will primarily focus on compassion, connection and wellbeing.

The trial will provide an immediate, compassionate response to people experiencing distress in the community at places such as a legal aid office.

Individuals will be offered an option for short-term support that is non-clinical and puts connection and the person in distress at the centre of their support.

Importantly, these trial sites are being co-designed with local communities and are being established in Greater Shepparton and the City of Darebin in Victoria, and in the Tablelands Region and the City of Ipswich in Queensland.

We are finalising the locations in New South Wales with the Minns Government and working closely with the South Australian Government to select a trial site location.

Because we know there are individuals for whom a short, targeted period of support will relieve their distress and their risk of suicide.

I look forward to these trials showing their effectiveness in finding and supporting individuals and their loved ones and showing their effectiveness in findings.

More broadly, of course, the task of reducing drivers of distress in their structural and systemic forms is a task for us all.

As I have said, the federal Labor Government is hard at work with the policy levers we have.

I give you our ongoing commitment to listening, taking feedback, and working with you as leaders in this sector as we go about further action to reduce suicide and suicidal distress.

And I ask that you all, in your daily work and your advocacy, look for our common goals and for practical ways in which we, together, can achieve them.

Thank you again for your contributions to this work.

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