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Being here makes all the difference: a place-based approach to rural suicide prevention

Updated: Nov 27, 2023

Suicide rates are higher in regional, rural, and remote Australia compared to metropolitan areas. People living in regional and remote towns also experience poorer health outcomes compared to people living in the cities due to poor access to local healthcare and community services.

Rural and remote communities are different to cities, which is why suicide prevention programs have to reflect the distinctive needs of these communities. This requires different approaches to those used for residents of metropolitan communities.

A community-led, place-based and strengths-based approach was used by the Healthy Communities Foundation Australia Ltd (the Foundation) in co-designing a suicide prevention program with rural, remote and Aboriginal people.

"Place-based, community-led and strengths-based are terms you will hear a lot when talking about health and social services at the Foundation" said Mark Burdack, CEO of the Foundation.

"These principles underpin everything we do, from supporting rural and remote communities to run local medical services, to the design of rural mental health, chronic disease and Telehealth programs.

"The success of the Foundation over more than 20 years has been built on listening to local people and understanding how the context in which they live influences health both positively and negatively.

"Understanding the strengths of a community is not something you can do from a desk in a city. You have to talk to people to work out the local tools they have and then work out what we can do with them. We don't have the luxury of a GP clinic 15 minutes down the road.

"What rural communities have in spades is a sense of responsibility to look after their neighbours. Volunteerism rates, for example, in rural areas are much higher than in cities. We know that poorer people are more likely to donate to a charity than richer people.

"The National Rural and Remote Suicide Prevention Program was co-designed with rural, remote and Aboriginal communities and relied heavily on understanding these strengths.

"Our mental health education and awareness program engages local people where they like to be - on the sporting field. The Rugby League has been a great partner in supporting this program to get people together as a community to talk about mental health at schools and sporting days.

"We have built a Community First Responder Training program based on the fact that rural people are willing to volunteer to help out their neighbours. The Program provides training to local people to ensure that there are people in town who can help locals experiencing a challenge or crisis.

"We designed a Mental Health Nursing program which has nurses based in rural and remote towns. The community told us that if want to break down some of the stigma associated with mental health and suicide, then we need local people who live and work in rural towns as our frontline service providers.

"We train rural doctor, rural nurses, rural hospital staff and other rural professionals to provide clinical support to patients who may present in a crisis situation locally so they are better equipped to help.

"We work with the outstanding Rural Health Connect who provide access for rural people to psychologists who understand rural people and their needs.

"This is the Foundation Way.

"Our success is built on the fact that we are the only major rural health charity that is headquartered in a rural town. Our programs are designed by rural people, for rural people, and delivered by rural people.

"In our most recent survey of patient experiences we recieved a 100% satisfaction rate from participants in the program. How many programs designed in the city for rural people have that level of community support?

"It is a reflection on the outstanding people who are involved in the design, delivery and growth of the program - but equally important, it is also a reflection on the critical importance of placed-based, community-led and strengths-based approach to health and social care in Australia" said Mr Burdack.



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