Established in 2020, the NSW Suicide Monitoring System (SuMS) reports on suspected and confirmed suicides by publishing data supplied from the NSW Department of Communities and Justice's information system.

For the people working within the initiative, it is vital to never lose sight of the fact that each piece of data represents a person with a story. Whether a confirmed suicide or not, every entry into the system involves a life lost.

The NSW Ministry of Health uses data from the SuMS to inform policy decisions and monitor the impact of suicide prevention initiatives. Data is shared with Local Health Districts to inform local trends, support incident reviews, health service improvement and planning. Local Health Districts are able to share de-identified data with service providers in their area, through data sharing arrangements with the NSW Department of Communities and Justice.

Jo Riley is the Program Manager for Suicide Prevention at COORDINARE South Eastern NSW Primary Health Network, and works closely with colleagues at the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District (ISLHD). To her role, Jo brings 15 years of experience in suicide prevention together with strong interest in suicide data, and her own lived experience.

COORDINARE and ISLHD are members of the Illawarra Shoalhaven Suicide Prevention Collaborative, a coming together of over 40 organisations, community members and people with lived experience of suicide. Each member of the Collaborative contributes their time, expertise, and resources to the common goal of reducing suicides in the region.

ISLHD shares the latest SuMS reports with COORDINARE for the purposes of COORDINARE's suicide prevention activities and the work of the Illawarra Shoalhaven Suicide Prevention Collaborative as a whole.

"I've got a long-term view to this, and seeing what SuMS is now and what it's delivered, I'm able to fully appreciate just how incredible it really is that we have access to quality and timely data of this nature."

"ISLHD securely shares the report with us, which COORDINARE then utilises to understand patterns and trends around suicide and inform suicide prevention activities," Jo explains.

But this data, Jo emphasises, is more than just numbers.

Jo continues, "We remain very aware the data represents human lives, and each of those points in the data probably represents the most vulnerable and worst times in people's lives, so we're very sensitive to that."

"We also recognise that data can be easily misunderstood, so we need to be very responsible around how we interpret it and what actions we take based on data."

An example of how the SuMS reports are used by COORDINARE and the Collaborative is to provide the local StandBy Support After Suicide service with high-level advice on which parts of the community would benefit most from their focus. StandBy can then target social media advertising to reach people recently bereaved by suicide more effectively.

"Often, it's not about sharing the actual data, it's more about considering the insights we can interpret from that data and work out how we can apply these insights in practical ways to make a difference locally."

"The work is complex but so valuable. We need high quality, timely data to be able to make meaningful decisions about how to direct suicide prevention activity."

While Jo's team are able to take immediate action by helping to promote postvention support to people bereaved by suicide, they can see future ways to utilise SuMS data once long-term data trends are available.

"As we improve our understanding of trends across the community, we can use this knowledge to influence the delivery of services."

"An example might be that if trends show local suicide risk is especially acute in particular months of the year, ISLHD, COORDINARE and the Collaborative could proactively promote the availability of mental health support to targeted parts of the community prior to the seasonal peak. We can aim to get people thinking about accessing support before they reach crisis point."

The provision of meaningful and accurate data through SuMS ensures that the decisions of health staff are better informed.

"We can make better decisions and get help where it's needed. That's what this is all about. It's not all about data. This is all about getting help to the people who need it most; when they need it, where they need it, how they need it. Data is a tool."

"Not every experience of suicidality is the same. There can be so many different underlying drivers calling for different targeted interventions that work to help someone stay alive."

"Not just stay alive, but to find hope, meaning and a life worth living."

To learn more about the Suicide Monitoring System visit Towards Zero Suicides.

Current as at: Wednesday 2 November 2022
Contact page owner: Mental Health