Researcher calls for suicide 'gatekeepers'

21:18, Jul 10 2012

A leading researcher on suicide in New Zealand says she believes one of the most effective prevention strategies is for entities like schools and businesses to ensure staff members are taught to recognise warning signs.

Dr Annette Beautrais, a senior research fellow with the University of Auckland School of Medicine, spoke about the issue with a gathering of South Canterbury healthcare professionals, community groups and emergency services and police representatives yesterday.

The prevention approach, known as "gatekeeper training", has been implemented globally – including in some agencies in South Canterbury – and is described as CPR training for mental health crises.

People who are comfortable acting as gatekeepers are taught not only to identify risk factors and warning signs, but also learn what to do if they suspect someone might be suicidal and how to connect those people with resources that can help them.

Dr Beautrais said she would like to see it mandated for school staff, because they were in a daily position to observe suicide warning signs in young people.

She would also like to see businesses implement gatekeeper training for employees to better to recognise warning signs in co-workers.

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But the stigma around mental health issues made that problematic, she said, because some companies fear such programmes could cause their businesses to be associated with mental health issues.

Another problem was that people tended to become receptive to suicide prevention training only after a death or several deaths.

Dr Beautrais was critical of calls for more open discussion and media reporting of suicide, and said projects such as the current series by The Timaru Herald were "against best practices" for suicide prevention, according to the prevailing research.

She also expressed fears that government cutbacks meant funding would not be available for many programmes recommended under New Zealand's national suicide-prevention strategy, a strategy based partly on her own research that spans 10 years from 2006-2016.

The Timaru Herald