• Susan Murray

Culture looms large in mental health and suicide prevention

Updated: Oct 11, 2019


The 10th day of the 10th month is World Mental Health Day. I am happy to say that my mental health has been optimised as a result of an awe-inspiring trip through the Canadian Rockies. This holiday came off the back of the IIMHL meeting on Urgent & Emergency Mental Health Care in Washington DC and ahead of a very important workshop with NSW Ministry of Health to begin the implementation of Zero Suicides in Care with Local Health Districts.


In preparing for the upcoming workshop what has loomed large in our planning discussions is the importance of system transformation through building a restorative and just culture. If you are interested in this, watch the movie Just Culture which documents the transformation, over a very short period of two years, of Mersey Care NHS Trust in Liverpool in the UK. The shift from a culture of blame and retribution to one of opportunity and learning is truly inspirational.


This notion of system transformation was also evident at the DC meeting. Health service leaders who recognise that a mental health crisis may impact anyone…. anywhere…. anytime focus on building a culture that delivers quality care in the same timely, compassionate and competent way they respond to a medical emergency such as a heart attack.

Providing alternative pathways to emergency departments that offer clinical care fit to the needs of the individual requires a culture that puts the person at the centre of decision making about their care. What this means is that those with lived experience actively participate in program and service design, delivery and evaluation.


And then there is the importance of culture in the context of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. In my limited experience the things that I hear as being important in Indigenous cultures could be readily applied to build stronger and more cohesive non-Indigenous communities.


Maybe if our mental health and suicide prevention programs and services were designed on the cultural foundations of First Nation’s people, we would be doing a great service to all those in Australia who seek help from our health system for mental ill-health and suicidal behaviours.


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