The impact of strengthening mental health services to prevent suicidal behaviour

Jo-An Atkinson, Andrew Page, Mark Heffernan, Geoff McDonnell, Ante Prodan, Bill Campos, Graham Meadows, Ian B. Hickie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: Successive suicide prevention frameworks and action plans in Australia and internationally have called for improvements to mental health services and enhancement of workforce capacity. However, there is debate regarding the priorities for resource allocation and the optimal combination of mental health services to best prevent suicidal behaviour. This study investigates the potential impacts of service capacity improvements on the incidence of suicidal behaviour in the Australian context. Methods: A system dynamics model was developed to investigate the optimal combination of (1) secondary (acute) mental health service capacity, (2) non-secondary (non-acute) mental health service capacity and (3) resources to re-engage those lost to services on the incidence of suicidal behaviour over the period 2018–2028 for the Greater Western Sydney (Australia) population catchment. The model captured population and behavioural dynamics and mental health service referral pathways and was validated using population survey and administrative data, evidence syntheses and an expert stakeholder group. Results: Findings suggest that 28% of attempted suicide and 29% of suicides could be averted over the forecast period based on a combination of increases in (1) hospital staffing (with training in trauma-informed care), (2) non-secondary health service capacity, (3) expansion of mental health assessment capacity and (4) re-engagement of at least 45% of individuals lost to services. Reduction in the number of available psychiatric beds by 15% had no substantial impact on the incidence of attempted suicide and suicide over the forecast period. Conclusion: This study suggests that more than one-quarter of suicides and attempted suicides in the Greater Western Sydney population catchment could potentially be averted with a combination of increases to hospital staffing and non-secondary (non-acute) mental health care. Reductions in tertiary care services (e.g. psychiatric hospital beds) in combination with these increases would not adversely affect subsequent incidence of suicidal behaviour.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)642-650
Number of pages9
JournalAustralian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2019


  • epidemiology
  • mental health services
  • Suicide
  • system dynamics

Cite this