Effective suicide prevention takes more than a singular approach. We know that what works for one individual may not work for another, and it's the same for different populations across our communities.

Though the overall rate of suicide attempts is higher among young people, the highest age-specific rate is among older people, particularly men over 85. But even with support more available than ever, the troubling truth is that older people are less likely to seek it.

To combat this, Anglicare is delivering dedicated Community Gatekeeper training as part of the Towards Zero Suicides Community Response Package for older people initiative. The course is designed for aged care workers, retirement living staff, pharmacists, geriatricians, clinical and non-clinical GP practice staff and anyone who works closely with older people.

Funded by the NSW Government, the Suicide Prevention for Seniors course begins with the QPR Institute's online suicide prevention training. This forms the foundation for the bulk of the course where that training is further explored and adapted for working with seniors.

Beyond the fundamental goal of reducing the suicide rate in older people, the aim now is to spread the word about what the program can offer.

Ministry of Health Senior Policy Officer Bryan Hoolahan works within the Older People Mental Health team at the NSW Ministry of Health and says word of mouth is doing what it does best.

"We had a lofty target of 2800 trained people by June 2024, but since interest has picked up in the first year there's about 800 people who've completed the program."

"Their feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. We have a participant survey at the three-month mark and plenty of people have already had the opportunity to use the skills they've learned in that time or felt confident enough to ask a direct question of an older person who might be having suicidal thoughts."

Bryan adds that home care staff and community managed organisations in particular have found the training incredibly useful.

"They're really important groups because they're in an ideal situation to pick up on the distress of older people who aren't in full-time care or living in a retirement village. Visiting older people at home means those workers and volunteers are in a pretty unique position to pick up on early signs of suicidality and apply their training to provide the best support."

The arrival of COVID-19 and the consequent restrictions presented its own unique set of challenges, particularly with seniors already experiencing a measure of social isolation. Fortunately, many were able to adapt to technology as a means to close distances, and a number of community agencies provided support for seniors looking to learn the essentials of video conferencing software.

The Suicide Prevention for Seniors course is helping caregivers develop their ability to recognise unique warning signs and take appropriate action, actively equipping themselves with the skills to save lives.

Current as at: Thursday 23 March 2023
Contact page owner: Mental Health