Former healthcare magnate Paul Ramsay, who died last year, left most of his large estate to charity. Photo: Peter Braig
The largest private donation for suicide prevention will fund a new program that aims to cut suicide in NSW by 20 per cent.
Four sites in NSW will be given access to a pilot program that will run for six years, funding local communities to develop local strategies for suicide prevention in their area.
The $14.7 million is the first major grant from the Paul Ramsay Foundation since the healthcare magnate died from a heart attack last year, and left the bulk of his estate to the foundation.
Helen Christensen, the director of the Black Dog Institute and the NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Suicide Prevention, said she believed the new strategy could lower suicide rates by as much as 20 per cent.
“There has always been a really fragmented approach to suicide prevention in Australia and NSW,” she said. “But we know what works, so why aren’t we doing it?”
The Black Dog will provide the trial sites with a new suicide prevention approach it developed at the request of the NSW Mental Health Commission.
The “systems approach” involves nine key elements including improving follow-up for people after suicide attempts, training for GPs and support people in workplaces and improving treatment options for people at risk.
The team also has a new geospacial mapping program that will allow it to track the suicides, hospital admissions and what health services are available down to very small local areas, monitoring the impact of the changes in those areas.
It will also allow them to target areas for the trial that have the highest per capita suicide rate, such parts of the Northern Rivers and Shoalhaven as well as the Sydney central area.
“People don’t realise there are a lot of people living in the centre of Sydney, but there are also more suicide deaths than you would expect given those numbers,” Professor Christensen said.
NSW Mental Health Commissioner John Feneley said he believed the programs would have an impact on stubbornly high suicide rates.
“What is now possible is that we can get a number of these trial areas with particularly high suicide rates in order to really put into place an evidence-based approach,” he said.
Having a philanthropic group such as the Paul Ramsay Foundation donate such a large amount of money would help lead the way.
“Governments tend to be quite risk-averse and highly cautious,” he said. “This is a really big deal because … if we can get it going and demonstrate how possible it is they can have the confidence to say ‘this is really worthwhile’,”
“People will be watching this, because people are looking for answers.”
The money will be used to implement and evaluate the approach at four sites, starting next year. It will also be integrated with federal and state services in local areas.
Simon Freeman, the chief executive officer of the Paul Ramsay Foundation, said it was “absolutely delighted” to be supporting the Black Dog in “what is an absolutely vital project both in terms of saving lives and drawing attention to what is an area of critical need”.
“Our board of directors highlighted mental health as one of the key areas they wanted the foundation to focus on therefore it is absolutely fitting that this is the first major grant that we have committed,” he said.