Compassionate Foundations course sets tone for APS suicide-prevention focus

By Melissa Coade

March 1, 2022

depression-suicide
The ASPC says the federal government is adopting a whole-of-government approach to suicide prevention. (Syda Productions/Adobe)

The federal government is adopting a whole-of-government approach to suicide prevention, including among its workforce, according to a psychologist working for the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC).

Rachael McMahon, the commission’s mental health and suicide-prevention unit director, said a cultural shift was taking place across the public service. In a special post to the APS Academy website, the principal psychologist said her new team had developed a skills-led suicide prevention capability suite for online learning.

“The APS is on the cusp of an important cultural shift,” McMahon said.

“Compassionate Foundations supports whole-of-service efforts to develop and firmly embrace a suicide-prevention culture across the workforce.”

The six e-learning modules were developed in response to the final advice from the ​​National Suicide Prevention Adviser published in April last year. They have been designed to complement existing agency-specific suicide-intervention programs.

The academy modules went live after extensive consultation and endorsement from a secondary review panel comprising people with lived experience, Suicide Prevention Australia, human resources experts and academics, the online training.

Senior clinical psychologist Connie Galati, who works on McMahon’s team, said the training focused on the relationship between people rather than many other suicide prevention intervention approaches that were based on a risk-assessment model.  

Compassionate Foundations was specifically developed to incorporate a positive, human-to-human approach to promoting human connection and understanding, she added. 

The modules are ​​trauma-informed and interactive, and use real-world scenarios to teach micro-skills development.

“The suite equips staff to recognise and respond compassionately to signs of early distress, rather than waiting until a person is acutely distressed or suicidal,” Galati said.

“We need to consider how all of us, as members of a community, can intervene early, before suicidal distress occurs.”

Galati said it was important for the APSC to find ways to normalise conversations about the sensitive topic of suicide as an important first step to changing workforce culture.

“Suicide prevention is not solely the work of health practitioners or APS staff working in frontline areas, we all need to be part of a wave of change. 

“This includes staff at all levels across the APS — whether you’re a policy officer, in IT or finance, and more broadly everyone in our society,” she said. 

Public servants can access the training via the APSLearning portal or find out more by contacting the Compassionate Foundations team at MHSP@apsc.gov.au


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