New suicide prevention program to unite alcohol and other drugs sector

22 April 2024

The launch of a new suicide prevention program will target the gap in education on how to care for people who are shuffled between services for mental health and alcohol and drug use. In some tragic cases, these people can fall through the cracks.

The Illawarra Shoalhaven Suicide Prevention Collaborative (the Collaborative) identified a critical educational need within the region when it comes to supporting people with suicide concerns who present co-occurring mental health and substance use challenges.

So, the Collaborative partnered with SafeSide Prevention with funding from COORDINARE - South Eastern NSW PHN, to customise a SafeSide program to provide suicide prevention training that fits the needs and experiences of the alcohol and other drugs sector.

This resulted in the development of the SafeSide Framework for Suicide Prevention – Alcohol and Other Drugs.

The Lived Experience Coordinator for the Illawarra Shoalhaven Suicide Prevention Collaborative at COORDINARE Jay Gardener said it was a gift to be a part of the effort in breaking down the silos of the system so that true integrated, person-centred care models could emerge.

Mx Gardener had a dual role to create, convene, and enable participation of diverse voices as part of the Content Customisation Group and also shared their lived and living experience of suicidality and alcohol and drug recovery for the training videos.

“Workers across services were not able to ‘hold the risk’ of someone’s suicidality and alcohol and drug use so they ended up being bounced around services, ” Mx Gardener said.

“We had evidence from our multidisciplinary suicide prevention workforce that the SafeSide model had been working well in our local mental health services so we were keen to use this common, shared language to create more opportunities for holistic regional care.”

Mx Gardener said this project needed stakeholders to be in the same room – people with lived experience of suicidality, alcohol, and drug recovery, people in the workforce, and decision-makers across these levels.

“There is a lot of fear about getting it right - and we do need to be mindful of risk - but this project just proves that we can meaningfully include the voices we need and benefit from the wealth of knowledge generated from bringing them together,” they said.

The final program is the culmination of meaningful collaboration between lived experience advocates, subject matter experts, workforce representatives, and other stakeholders such as the Network of Alcohol and Other Drugs Agencies (NADA).

Jo Telenta, Manager Service Development & Performance - Alcohol & Other Drugs at COORDINARE – South Eastern NSW PHN is pleased to be able to showcase this work across the PHN region.

“The Collaborative has identified a gap in the way services work together across our PHN region and we are pleased to be part of this co-designed solution that will not only support the AOD workforce across the region, but ultimately also our consumers. There is a wonderful opportunity ahead for other Primary Health Networks to adopt this training as well.

Dan Mobbs, Director of SafeSide Prevention’s Workforce Education and Innovation said the alcohol and other drugs sector is a vital workforce when it comes to suicide prevention, which does an incredible job supporting the community.

“We realised that there was a need for suicide prevention training that was relevant and tailored to the alcohol and other drug settings to build confidence and effectiveness,” he said.

“This project customised SafeSide’s flagship workshop for mental health, which uses SafeSide’s Framework to provide different services with a common language and best practices in suicide prevention, and embeds it in the alcohol and other drug services context.

“This included bringing together voices of lived experience and First Nation perspectives to inform and provide feedback on the content. We also developed new demonstration videos co-designed alongside people with lived experience and created new educational activities.”

Mr Mobbs said there was a need for this education outside Illawarra-Shoalhaven and The Collaborative.

“A big part of our mission in suicide prevention is also continuous improvement as we recognise that we are learning as we go,” Mr Mobbs said.

NADA provided input into the customisation of the Safe Side Training Program content for the AOD sector.

Program Manager Antonia Ravesi said the content was evidence-based, the language inclusive and the modules easy to follow with scenarios to demonstrate the skills application.

“There is a clear need for a better response to the mental health needs of our diverse communities to proactively reduce the numbers of people developing acute mental health concerns and dying from suicide,” she said.

“The customised SafeSide Training Program for the AOD sector is a much need resource which will contribute to reducing stigma and discrimination, enhance the capacity of the AOD workforce and ultimately improve the experience for people experiencing suicidal distress.”

You can watch the introductory video from the new SafeSide for AOD program below:



Drug and alcohol, Mental health