Suicide prevention insights – Connecting with People in South Australia

Posted 14th December 2018 in Research

Suicide is a public health issue that affects individuals, families, workplaces and communities across Australia, requiring a collaborative joined-up approach from all levels of government, health care systems, front-line health and community groups, as well as individuals, families and communities.

While this collaborative approach is vital it is important to consider regional, rural and state based programs which demonstrate best practice in supporting demographics unique to a population.

The Life in Mind team has turned the lens on Connecting with People, a program in South Australia which is tackling self-harm and suicide prevention via a person-centred approach.

What is the Connecting with People program?

Connecting with People is an internationally recognised suicide and self-harm mitigation and prevention program built upon best available evidence in the field of suicide prevention.

As a training program the Connecting with People approach is designed for use by SA Health and its partners to assist individuals vulnerable to, and/or experiencing suicide and self-harm related distress.

It is situated on the premise that suicide is preventable and can be mitigated when clinicians have the appropriate knowledge, attitudes, skills and confidence and access to tools for intervention.

What is the background behind Connecting with People program?
The Connecting with People approach is a paradigm shift in the way suicide is considered.

It is marked by clinicians engaging in comprehensive person-centred assessment, safety planning and suicide mitigation with a series of evidence-informed and peer-reviewed clinical tools to support clinical assessments and assist with the identification of, and response to suicide risk.

It requires nurses to work in a compassionate person-centred way with the individual to identify their own risk factors, distress triggers, needs and strengths, imparting hope and encouraging them to seek and accept support.

In 2017 Dr Alys Cole-King, originator of the Connecting with People approach, was recipient of the Ringel Service Award from the International Association for Suicide Prevention.

This award is for distinguished service in the field of suicidology, presented to individuals who have been involved in the development and implementation of evidence-informed and best practice suicide prevention and are acknowledged as a leader in the field as confirmed by opinion leaders (in academic, practitioner, voluntary and/or community sectors) nationally and internationally.

What is meant by the term ‘person centred’ approach?

A key feature of mental health care in South Australia is the coming together of person-centred mental health care and the Connecting with People approach to suicide prevention.

Person-centred mental health care is marked by practitioners taking active steps to convey a holistic approach with an attitude of respect.

Widely regarded as care aligned with the unique experience and needs of the person – as the person conceptualises these – person-centred care embraces the individual’s language and experience to deliver care.

Person-centred mental health care is aligned with the philosophy of Connecting with People as the latter places compassion, empathy and collaboration at the heart of every encounter with a person at risk of suicide.

What does ‘person centred’ care look like?

Person-centred mental health care is a holistic approach with an attitude of respect, which may include sensitive inquiry into the following:

  • Degree of emotional pain
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • The nature of suicidal thoughts and the person’s ability to resist them
  • Risk factors and protective factors particularly reasons for living and individual resilience
  • Level of emotional and social support.

The Connecting with People approach also involves the practice of safety planning. Central to effective suicide prevention is having effective systems to support collaboration with consumers, carers and families to safely respond at times of distress, thoughts of self-harm or suicide, or have self-harmed.

Why is safety planning important?

Safety planning is considered international best practice in indicated suicide prevention strategies as tools to help mitigate suicide risk. A safety plan document is co-created collaboratively by a consumer and clinician.

It typically consists of written statements, individualised actions, sources of comfort, distraction, and support that people can use to alleviate suicidal urges or other safety crisis. Written in the person’s own words/language, the strategies and supports are co-created with the person. The safety plan protocol is not something that is imposed upon a person.


Safety planning interventions typically utilise the following six key steps:

  1. Recognise warning signs of an impending suicidal crisis and associated thoughts and feelings
  2. Employ internal care and personal resource strategies
  3. Utilise social and emotional contacts as a means of support and distraction from suicidal thoughts,
  4. Contact family members or friends who can say and do things that help resolve the crisis
  5. Contact mental health professionals
  6. Reduce the potential use of lethal means.

Authors:
Professor Nicholas Procter – Chair: Mental Health Nursing, University of South Australia


Bernie Stefan-Rasmus – Advanced Nurse Consultant, Practice Development, and BPSO Lead, Mental Health Directorate, Central Adelaide Local Health Network

For more information visit: www.unisa.edu.au/research/mentalhealth

Or contact Professor Nicholas Procter – Chair: Mental Health Nursing, University of South Australia via: 08 8302 2148 or: nicholas.procter@unisa.edu.au