The competency framework is intended to provide a structure to the mental health support provided across universities in Australia, for the country’s 1.5 million students and over 100,000 staff each year, by functioning as an important reference point. It aims to complement the existing support service network across Australian higher education.
Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson said that the framework was built, keeping in perspective the multiple mental health risk factors in universities, which both students and staff have to cope with.
“We know the devastating impact of suicide on university communities is immediate, traumatic and far-reaching”
“We know the devastating impact of suicide on university communities is immediate, traumatic and far-reaching,” she said.
“And as many return to campus after a period of much uncertainty and disruption, universities understand their responsibility to the health, safety and wellbeing of the students they educate, as well as their staff.
“We’re encouraging universities to weave this framework into their existing policies and practices as a crucial step to ensure that every person who needs support can access a consistent, high-quality and safe standard of care,” Jackson emphasised.
It is noteworthy that suicide is the leading cause of death among young people aged 18-24 in Australia.
Further, there have also been calls to address the issue of suicide among international students in Australia in the last few years. Many international students face various distressing factors relating to moving to a new country, adapting to a different culture and new ways of living and studying. A lack of a coordinated and systematic approach to address the problem has also been identified as a key gap.
Universities Australia and Suicide Prevention Australia’s endeavour seeks to provide support and complement universities’ efforts in meeting these challenges and bridging existing gaps in suicide prevention.
The methodology adopted for developing the framework has centred around a consultative approach, with 27 participants from 11 universities, informing on the key gaps and the various elements required for providing more robust suicide prevention and mental health support in their institutions.
The framework highlights that a higher percentage of people who identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex; and culturally and linguistically diverse are more vulnerable to suicide. Therefore, it seeks to provide thrust on supporting these sets of individuals across Australia’s universities.
“While suicidal behaviour can be experienced by anyone, some population groups can be disproportionately affected. It is important to consider all the factors that may increase distress and work to address these through targeted responses where required,” the framework document points out.
“Suicide prevention initiatives are more effective when they are based on the beliefs, values and needs of groups,” it says.
“We all have a role to play in suicide prevention. Partnerships like this have the capacity to build robust solutions that can make a real difference to the lives of many people,” Suicide Prevention Australia’s CEO, Nieves Murray said.
“Importantly, this approach takes into consideration the roles of non-clinical university staff and students in responding to the diverse and complex risk factors found in universities,” she emphasised.
The document recommends universities to “embed” the framework in their policies and activities across key structures and operational domains such as HR and Work Health and Safety. It also emphasises adopting best practices resources in designing programs and services towards suicide prevention.
“Recognising the early warning signs and then responding appropriately is a critical part of suicide prevention”
“The suicide prevention competency framework will be evidence-informed, culturally accessible and hands-on in its support for universities to build on protective factors, while reducing risk within their communities,” Murray added.
“Recognising the early warning signs and then responding appropriately is a critical part of suicide prevention.
“It is our hope that with this framework, we can encourage more universities to facilitate these conversations, reduce the stigma, and ultimately work to reduce deaths by suicide. We can never underestimate the impact that every life lost to suicide has on family, friends, workplaces and the broader community,” she concluded.
If you need support, help is available.
Lifeline: 131 114
Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636
Lifeline: 0800 543 354
Samaritans: 116 123
National Suicide Prevention Helpline: 1-800-273-8255