LIFE News 30

Welcome to this edition of LIFE News. In our 30th edition, we examine the issue of suicide prevention and the workplace with MATES In Construction, and talk to Dr Fiona Shand about the development of a new suicide prevention app for Indigenous Australians, ibobbly. As always, we have all the latest news from the Department, and upcoming training and events. 

News from the Department

Mental health review

The Australian Government has tasked the National Mental Health Commission (NMHC) to assess the effectiveness of mental health and suicide prevention programmes, across both government and non-government sectors, to ensure that services are properly targeted, not being duplicated, and not being unnecessarily burdened by red tape.

Terms of reference can be found online via the NMHC website.

National Commission of Audit

The National Commission of Audit (NCOA) has been established by the Australian Government as an independent body to review and report on the performance, function and roles of the Commonwealth Government. Reporting to the Prime Minister, Treasurer and Finance Minister, the NCOA has a broad remit to examine the scope for efficiency and productivity improvements across all areas of Commonwealth spending.


Is suicide prevention a workplace issue?

Contributors - Jorgen Gullestrup, CEO MATES in Construction Aust Ltd
Raymond Abi-Fares, Case Manager/Social Worker MATES in Construction Qld Ltd

On February 20th, close to 200 construction workers met at the MATES In Construction conference in Brisbane, sponsored in part by LIFE, to discuss the topic – Is suicide a workplace health and safety issue? 

Here, Jorgen and Raymond from MATES in Construction provide their own reflections on this important topic.


Often we try to explain suicide and poor mental health in terms of mental illness. However the prism of mental illness will not account adequately for environmental factors, such as the workplace. Studies have shown that some industries have significantly higher suicide rates than others.

Suicides are not generally recorded as ‘work-related deaths.’ Dying because a job was too stressful, in most countries at least, is not seen as a workplace problem. However the law is now starting to recognise poor mental health as a workplace health and safety issue, in particular where it is caused by bullying. 

In the work of MATES in Construction, we often find that workplaces are ill-prepared to deal with severe emotional stress and are looking for guidelines on how the workplace should respond. This is particularly true where the stress is caused by suicide. Not dealing well with severe emotional stress in the workplace can affect physical workplace health and safety, increase absenteeism or presenteeism, lead to poor morale and decreased productivity. 

However employment is also a protective factor and for many, particularly full time and fly-in fly-out (FIFO) workers, the workplace is the most significant human contact and connection in terms of time. This also makes the workplace a very useful place to intervene in poor mental health and wellbeing. It is a place where a little awareness and skills training among peers can go a long way.

The MATES in Construction model involves a training program targeted at employees on construction sites at three levels:

  • General Awareness Training (GAT) – suicide facts; what to notice and a practical guide on seeking help
  • Connector Training – be alert to poor mental health and be prepared to ask and act
  • ASIST Training – face to face intervention/support for those contemplating suicide 

Through this program more than 45,000 construction workers have been trained in Queensland, NSW, South Australia and Western Australia. The program has a network of over 3000 “Connector” volunteers and 500 ASIST suicide first aid helpers. MATES In Construction is building resilience in over 500 workplaces nationally, and has a simple but powerful model – mates helping mates – as the key to its success.

Raising awareness of suicide as a preventable problem, providing simple guidance in asking the question 'are you ok?' and having support available from peers in the workplace has shown to be a particularly effective intervention strategy in male-dominated workplaces. In recognition of this, the mining industry is currently supporting a project by University of Newcastle to test a MATES in Mining program.

A simple awareness/peer to peer program has not only shown to be effective and acceptable to the industry but also practical and cost effective. With the current legal trends it may not only be good for productivity but it may also be a legal requirement to take positive action to provide a mentally healthy work environment.


  1. Andersen K, Hawgood J, Klieve H, Kolves K & De Leo D (2010) Suicide in selected occupations in Queensland: evidence from the State suicide register Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry 2012; 44:243-249
  2. In Brodie’s case, a prosecution resulting from a suicide under Victoria’s WHS legislation led to significant fines.
  3. Mendoza J & Rosenberg S (2010) Suicide & suicide prevention in Australia: Breaking the silence Moffat Beach: ConNetica Consulting Pty Ltd estimate that suicides cost the Australian economy up to $17.5 billion per year including lost productivity.
  4. Suicide Prevention Australia (2014) Work and Suicide Prevention Position Statement Sydney: Suicide Prevention Australia.
  5. Gullestrup J, Lequertier B & Martin G MATES in Construction: Impact of a Multimodal Community-Based Program for Suicide Prevention in the Construction Industry International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 2011, 8, 4180-4196


ibobbly – a unique suicide prevention app for Indigenous Australians

Contributor: Dr Fiona Shand

ibobbly is a unique suicide prevention app for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, developed by a team of organisations including the Black Dog Institute and Alive and Kicking Goals! Dr Fiona Shand, Research Fellow at the Black Dog Institute, has spoken to LIFE Communications about the need for such an app, its development process, and the team’s plans for evaluating its success.

Why the need for ibobbly? What gap is it filling?  Although the number of deaths by suicide has fallen in the Australian population over the past 20 years, this is not the case for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, for whom risk of death by suicide is four to five times higher than their non-Indigenous peers. One of the problems faced in preventing these suicides is very low levels of help-seeking – around one in 10 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been in touch with a medical service in the three months prior to dying by suicide. The historical reasons for this are many, but barriers to help-seeking include shame, fears about loss of anonymity, cost, and poor access to suitable services. In partnership with Alive & Kicking Goals! (AKG) and others, researchers at the Black Dog Institute have developed an app that attempts to overcome some of these barriers: users can access it at any time, it is anonymous, and free. 

What does ibobbly do? ibobbly delivers evidence-based therapy designed for young Indigenous Australians. It aims to reduce suicidal thoughts, psychological distress, and impulsivity. In our pilot study, participants are provided with a tablet with ibobbly pre-loaded. We assess them at baseline and then again at six weeks to see if the app is having an impact. We provide links to crisis and mental health services, and follow people up at three weeks to ensure they are safe. Participants can listen, swipe, click, and watch, making the app interactive and engaging. It contains very little text, and any text is accompanied by audio voice-over.

Tell us about the development process for ibobbly.  Developing ibobbly kicked off with discussions about the concept between the researchers at Black Dog Institute and the AKG steering committee and peer educators. AKG is a community-controlled suicide prevention organisation based in the Kimberley region. Their enthusiastic support for the app meant that we were able to proceed with focus groups to develop the content within a therapeutic framework, bring on board Aboriginal graphic artists and actors from the Kimberley area, and develop the scripts with the help of AKG’s young peer educators and their contacts. Focus groups were also run in Armidale with young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, through BackTrack. Funding was provided by the Department of Health, and other support from HITnet Innovations and the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre. In the latter stages of the project, ThoughtWorks became involved to coordinate the input and bring everything together in a software package. 

How were Indigenous Australians involved in the development process? The content of ibobbly has been developed in collaboration with young Indigenous Australians through AKG and BackTrack. The artwork was developed by three Aboriginal artists from the Broome area – Martha Lee, Danica Manado, and Esah Coffin. AKG’s peer educators ran focus groups and provided their own input to tell us about the kinds of issues that challenge young Indigenous Australians, the types of distressing thoughts that can arise, some of the helpful and unhelpful coping strategies they’ve used, and what really matters to them. This information was used to draft scenarios, thoughts, feelings and scripts. The scripts and other content were once again edited by the AKG group. Young Aboriginal actors were hired through Goolarri Media to provide voice overs within the app. 

The app is being extensively tested – tell us about the evaluation process.  At the moment the pilot is being run in the Kimberley region and we hope to expand it into two or three areas of New South Wales within the next couple of months. Participants in the pilot are assessed at baseline and then randomly allocated to receive ibobbly immediately or to go on a waitlist for six weeks. Each participant is followed up at three weeks and again at six weeks. Those who are on the waitlist are provided with ibobbly at the end of the six week waiting period. This allows us to compare the results of those who receive the app immediately with those who are on the waitlist. 

We are measuring psychological distress, suicidal thoughts and behaviours, and impulsivity. We are also asking participants about their experience of using the app and how they think it could be improved. This information will be used to upgrade the app this year. A national trial kicks off in early 2015.

How will the evaluation results be shared?  For the pilot, AKG is closely involved with recruitment and data collection. AKG will also be closely involved in the changes to be made later this year. A shared and thorough examination of the quantitative and qualitative outcomes will be part of this process. For the larger trial, we will discuss with each community how they would like us to share the results of the trial. The Black Dog Institute also disseminates its research findings through social media, community fora, peer reviewed publications, and professional and scientific conferences. 


LIFE fact sheet 3 update

The LIFE Communications team are pleased to announce the launch of the recently updated LIFE fact sheet 3: Statistics on suicide in Australia.  The new version includes the most up to date Australian and international suicide statistics and data. You can view the updated fact sheet online, or hard copies can be ordered by getting in touch with the LIFE team at

Mental Health First Aid: upcoming training courses

Mental health first aid is the help provided to a person who is developing a mental health problem, or who is in a mental health crisis, until appropriate professional treatment is received or the crisis resolves. Mental health first aid strategies are taught in training programs provided by Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Australia, a national not-for-profit health promotion charity focused on mental health training and research.

Training courses are available to train suitable people to become instructors of MHFA courses. These run for either five or five-and-a-half days. After completing this training, instructors work independently of MHFA Australia to train members of the public as part of their employment or in their own businesses. 

MHFA Australia currently offer three MHFA course types for providing mental health first aid to specific populations:  Standard/Adult (for adults helping other adults), Youth (for adults helping young people, approx. 12-18 years of age), and Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander (for adults helping Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people). 

You can become an instructor of one or multiple course types. 

View MHFA’s instructor Training Course Calendar and apply online:
For more information visit: 
Phone: 03 9079 0200


Upcoming events and training

To keep up to date with all the latest events, conferences and training opportunities in the suicide prevention and mental health sectors, keep an eye on LIFE’s Event Calendar

Australian Grief and Bereavement Conference 2014
Melbourne, March 26-28 2014
This dynamic professional development opportunity brings together a diverse range of well-known international keynote speakers alongside local presentations, pre-conference workshop opportunities and social networking events.

No 2 Bullying Conference 2014
Surfers Paradise, April 7-8 2014
The Conference will examine bullying and what can be done about it in a range of contexts such as schools, families, workplaces and cyberspace.

6th Asia Pacific Regional Conference of IASP
Tahiti, June 10-13 2014
The goal of this regional conference is to draw together IASP members and those working in the field of suicide prevention in the Asia Pacific Region.


In the media

The death of television personality Charlotte Dawson dominated the mainstream media in late February. Her death sparked significant discussion about the potential dangers of cyber bullying, with beyondblue CEO Kate Carnell urging Twitter to take a stronger stance against bullies and ‘trolls’, and an online petition launched calling for tougher bullying legislation. 

The extreme heat and weather conditions affecting much of the country were also a media focus. The Conversation published a piece about a QUT PhD researcher's study examining the link between heatwaves and suicide risk. There was also attention on the plight of farmers during times of drought and extreme heat, such as this piece in the Toowomba Chronicle


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