The Prime Minister’s National Suicide Prevention Adviser

The Australian Government is working towards zero suicides and appointed Ms Christine Morgan as the first National Suicide Prevention Adviser reporting directly to the Prime Minister.

Page last updated: 16 November 2020

In July 2019, the Prime Minister announced that the Australian Government is working towards zero suicides and appointed Ms Christine Morgan as the first National Suicide Prevention Adviser reporting directly to the Prime Minister.

Towards zero means we have a total commitment to respecting the life of every Australian. For that reason, Ms Morgan will work with relevant Ministers to drive a whole-of-government approach to suicide prevention activities as set out in her Terms of Reference.

PDF version: Terms of Reference (PDF 145 KB)
Word version: Terms of Reference (Word 33 KB)

Role

The National Suicide Prevention Adviser works to:

  • reduce the risk that people will experience the kind of despair that leads to suicide. This means keeping people healthy, connected to their communities and addressing the range of factors that contribute to suicidal behaviour
  • ensure people who experience distress get immediate, effective and compassionate support
  • identify ways to connect and coordinate national and local action, and to empower communities to recognise and respond to people in distress and help to instil hope.

Interim Advice – August 2020

The National Suicide Prevention Adviser has provided the Prime Minister with the Interim Advice (the Advice) to inform and complement the Government’s Toward Zero initiatives. There are three parts that together make up the Advice: a lived experience informed report called ‘Compassion First’, the Interim Advice Report containing the ‘in-principle’ recommendations and priority actions, and a national suicide prevention model outlining the components for a whole-of-government approach.

The Advice builds upon the early findings of the Initial Advice (submitted in November 2019) which emphasised the need for a fundamental shift to achieve a whole-of-government approach to suicide prevention that places the needs of people at its core.

The Interim Advice includes thirteen (13) in-principle recommendations to improve the whole-of-government coordination and delivery of suicide prevention activities. These recommendations will form the basis of more intensive and deliberate consultations with jurisdictions and stakeholders in the lead-up to the Final Advice due in December 2020.

Published below is a copy of the three reports that comprise the Interim Advice, a summary document outlining the key components of the Advice, and the in-principle recommendations for further testing.

Consultation Opportunity

The Taskforce is working on a time-limited consultation plan that includes engagement with Commonwealth agencies, states and territories, the suicide prevention sector and the broader community. Targeted consultation sessions will be held until the end of the calendar year.

The Taskforce has also developed a survey for other interested parties, person and/or organisation who wants to provide specific comments and feedback on the Interim Advice. If you are interested, you can complete the survey. The survey is available until 30 November 2020.

Your feedback will inform the refinement of the Interim Advice recommendations for the Final Advice to be provided to the Prime Minister in December 2020.

Initial advice and early findings – November 2019

In November 2019, the Initial Advice and early findings were provided to the Prime Minister. The initial advice outlines the need for a fundamental shift to a broader approach which places the needs of people at the centre of all strategies and initiatives.

Published below is Ms Morgan’s communique summarising the early findings and a copy of the Initial Advice and a report detailing the key themes and early findings that supported the development of the Interim Advice. The below documents enabled consultation and feedback from all interested stakeholders that informed the Interim Advice and will contribute to the Final Advice due in December 2020.

National Suicide Prevention Taskforce

The National Suicide Prevention Taskforce supports the National Suicide Prevention Adviser.

The Taskforce is supported by Dr Jaelea Skehan OAM, who brings extensive experience in suicide prevention research, policy and practice.

Members of the Taskforce engage with government agencies (Commonwealth and state and territory) as well as those in the suicide prevention sector and other networks.

Ongoing advice and engagement

Along with direct consultations with community members and organisations, the cross-government committee and Expert Advisory Group, formed to support the work of the Adviser and Taskforce, have been convening throughout 2020 and will continue to provide advice and support to Ms Morgan, ahead of the Final Advice report due in December 2020.

Towards Zero Suicide Prevention Forum

On 13 November the Towards Zero Suicide Prevention Forum: Opportunities for a Coordinated Response was held in Canberra. With over 100 attendees the Forum provided another opportunity for Ms Morgan to hear from community members and organisations.

PDF version: Towards Zero Suicide Prevention Forum Communique (PDF 302 KB)
Word version: Towards Zero Suicide Prevention Forum Communique (Word 1151 KB)

Participants at the Towards Zero Suicide Prevention Forum: Opportunities for a Coordinated Response

Contact

To contact the Adviser or the Taskforce, email [email protected]

A message from the National Suicide Prevention Adviser

We are re-learning the power of staying connected to one another

Christine Morgan, National Suicide Prevention Adviser to the Prime Minister, CEO National Mental Health Commission.

Today marks World Suicide Prevention Day and RUOK? Day in Australia. Now more than ever it is important that we continue to work together as governments, communities, families, colleagues and individuals to ensure a comprehensive approach to suicide prevention and empower people to reach out and support each other through tough times.

The impact of someone’s suicidal behaviour will affect most Australians at some point in their lives, often leaving long lasting and far-reaching impacts on individuals, families, workplaces, schools, services and communities. Most Australians know someone who has died by suicide or attempted to take their life.

We often cite the number of people who die by or attempt suicide each year to highlight the scale and impact of the issue, but this is only part of the overall picture. There are many more people who live with suicidal ideation and who experience suicidal distress.  The factors surrounding suicide are stories of struggle and pain. Behind each of those numbers is a person, a journey, and a network of other people.

This year in my role as National Suicide Prevention Adviser, I have had the opportunity to talk to many people across our community who have personal experiences of suicide and its impacts. What they have said is that what we need are connected, compassionate and supportive responses to the underlying pain, distress, adversity and trauma so many people experience. We need a comprehensive approach to reach people well before the point of crisis.

Access to affordable and effective mental health services is critical for suicide prevention. However, it is not sufficient in and of itself. Attention must also be given to other factors that contribute to suicidal behaviour - financial distress, relationship breakdown, housing insecurity, childhood adversity, discrimination, and over use of alcohol and other drug to manage stress. These significant life stressors and key points of disconnection and transitions require all available government and community touchpoints for a comprehensive early response. The critical factor is to link people to support rather than waiting for them to seek help.

Suicide prevention has traditionally been the responsibility of Australian Health Ministers, with significant activity and investment across jurisdictions. Suicide, however, is a multi-factorial behaviour which means that no single government, government portfolio, person, or organisation can reduce suicide attempts and suicide deaths alone. Collectively, however, they can make a big difference.

What I have witnessed this year is a genuine commitment and goodwill across government portfolios and across our organisations and communities to work together. It is only through this shared commitment, drawing on knowledge and expertise from those with a lived experience of suicide, that lasting impacts can be achieved for individuals and communities.

There is no doubt that it has been a challenging 12 months for Australians. We have lived through – and continue to live through - the impacts of drought, floods, devastating bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic. These events have exposed and exacerbated vulnerabilities – including increased levels of distress, financial pressures and unemployment, disruption of education and young careers.

The creation of National Cabinet has afforded opportunities to strengthen multi-jurisdictional and cross-portfolio approaches, including a proactive response to reducing distress and providing support in new ways. Governments have responded proactively to suicide risks on multiple levels, including economic policies to reduce financial distress, social policies and investments, and innovation to unlock health and crisis response services.

The COVID-19 response has shown what is possible when the health and wellbeing of a nation is everyone’s priority. As a nation, we have been reminded of the powerful role social connection plays as a protective factor and the importance of both offering support and receiving support from others.  

Families, friends, schools, and businesses have all made incredible efforts to help each other. This is the heart of the RUOK? Day message and a reminder about the powerful role you can play as an individual in the prevention of suicide.  

If there is someone that you have been thinking about and wondering how they are going – ring them, set up a video call or arrange a way to connect and do it today. How often has our ‘gut’ feeling told us that something is not quite right with someone we care about, but we avoided the conversation for fear of getting it wrong, or not knowing how to respond if the answer is, “No, I’m actually not OK”?

Do not think that you need to be an expert to support someone going through a tough time.  The first important step is to reach out and ask R U OK? If they are not ok, there are many support services available. Our connection with each other is what builds us up and keeps us strong.  Having people sit beside us when times are good and when times are bad makes all the difference. You can be that support for the people you know and love. Reach out.

Steps for Asking RUOK?

  • ASK:  Notice any changes in behaviour and pay attention to events that may be impacting on people around you and ask R U OK?

  • LISTEN: It is important not to try to solve the problem or diminish their concerns but be present and listen without judgement so they feel heard.

  • ENCOURAGE ACTION: Support the person to take the next step - whether that is asking them who else they feel comfortable telling, making an appointment with their doctor or getting more information from a service online.

  • CHECK-IN: Follow-up with them tomorrow or in a few days to keep that connection. 

If you or someone you know needs support, contact one of the services below: