This resource has been developed to assist Australian communities to manage or contain an actual or potential suicide cluster. The community plan might focus on a suburb, a particular facility (e.g., a school, hospital or prison), a rural or remote area, or an Indigenous community. It could be developed by a government department, mental health or suicide prevention agency, school or other facility, community organisation or service, or a group made up of a number of different agencies.
What is a ‘suicide cluster’?
A suicide cluster can be defined as a group of suicides or acts of deliberate self harm (or both), that occur closer together in time and space than would normally be expected on the basis of statistical prediction and/or community expectation. Schools, prisons, mental health facilities, Indigenous communities, and communities with previous experience of suicide or suicide clusters are indicated to be at higher risk of experiencing a suicide cluster. In Australia, suicide clusters have most commonly been documented in Indigenous communities and in young people.
It has been proposed that suicide clusters may be due to ‘contagion’, or the process where one person’s suicide influences another person to engage in suicidal behaviour. The mechanisms for contagion are not fully understood. Contagion may be linked to an expression of grief after experiencing the suicide of another, or an attempt to deal with a range of emotions or events through imitation. It may also be an indication of a desire to be recognised, for identity, or to be part of a group, or because of the suggestive power of exposure to a particular method. There are also demonstrated links between the way in which suicide is reported in the media and the occurrence of further suicidal acts.
When to develop and activate a community plan
Ideally, communities, particularly those at higher risk, might develop a community plan before a cluster emerges. The plan should be activated when the community or coordinating body for the plan perceives that a cluster is occurring or is at risk of occurring. The community plan should sit within existing local suicide prevention/postvention policies and activities. As it is difficult to identify a suicide as being the first in a possible cluster, the early parts of a cluster response may be the same as those for an individual suicide. No two clusters, or communities, are the same. Therefore when developing a community plan organisations should be mindful of the particular culture, needs and resources of any given setting or group. It is recommended that communities review the steps and experience contained within this resource, and then develop a response, drawing on a combination of strategies that are relevant to their particular situation.