26 September 2023

APS training to deal with mental health

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All members of the Australian Public Service (APS) are to be encouraged to take a training course to help people struggling with their mental health as part of a new online learning suite being offered by the Australian Public Service Academy.

Principal Psychologist and Director of the Australian Public Service Commission’s (APSC) Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Unit, Rachael McMahon said the Academy’s Compassionate Foundations eLearning suite was part of a whole-of-service approach to build the suicide prevention capability of the Australian Public Service (APS).

Ms McMahon (pictured left) said suicide prevention was 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.

Ms McMahon said the modules were interactive; provided staff with theory; real-world scenarios; micro-skills development; and the opportunity to evaluate their knowledge.

Senior Clinical Psychologist at APSC, Connie Galati said the new suite focused on the relationship between people instead of on risk assessment like traditional suicide prevention training.

Compassionate Foundations is based on contemporary upstream suicide prevention approaches,” Ms Galati (pictured right) said.

“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,” she said.

“Traditionally, suicide prevention capability training for the Public Sector has focused at the point of suicidal distress with intervention sitting purely in the health field.”

Ms Galati said contemporary suicide prevention, which had been driven by people with lived experience of suicidal distress and suicidal bereavement, suggested the need to move away from this old way of thinking.

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

She said Compassionate Foundations took a positive, human-to-human approach to interactions that promoted connection and understanding.

Ms Galati said the eLearning suite was designed to complement, not replace, an Agency’s longer-form suicide intervention training.

“Adopting a trauma-informed approach is key to this suite being suitable for the service as a whole,” she said.

“As staff work through the six modules, not only are they able to understand and apply compassion-based suicide prevention principles in their day-to-day work, they are essentially acknowledging that every single person in our APS has the opportunity to positively impact on someone who may be at risk of experiencing distress and, potentially, save a life,” Ms Galati said.

Anyone experiencing distress from topics discussed in this article can access support 24/7 through Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.

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