Set up a community action group

meeting

Talk to people in your community who are interested in taking action to prevent suicide. Call a meeting with everyone interested and make sure you consider the points below as you get started.

Decide who will be in the group

The group should include people who agree about the need for suicide prevention and have the skills to develop an action plan.

The membership should reflect:

  • the organisations, services and people who will carry out the planned strategies and activities
  • the organisations, services and people who will be the focus of those strategies and activities
  • community leaders who will  help spread the message and encourage people to join in e.g. religious leaders and doctors as a way of getting in touch with isolated older people
  • all relevant local groups, voluntary organisations and government agencies working towards suicide prevention in your area.

Your group may decide to:

  • create a sense of hope and strength in a time of great distress
  • put together an effective action plan.

At first, these aims might be short term and include distribution of available information, or running a forum on community wellbeing, resilience and social connectedness.

Once your group is established, you may want to involve the wider community in discussing and deciding what needs to be done in the medium to long-term, such as ways to reduce the isolation of elderly people who live on their own.

There will be many more strategies you can put into action over time.

Consider including others

Working with people from various backgrounds who are interested in suicide prevention is a great way to bring a wide range of resources, skills, contacts, knowledge and energy to the group. Think about including:

  • community leaders
  • community members with a lived experience of bereavement by suicide or suicide attempts (particularly if the group’s focus is on responding to deaths by suicide). 
  • community representatives
  • health professionals (e.g. doctors, nurses, mental health workers)
  • local businesses (e.g. employers, businesses or workplaces that often have a social role such as postmen and women, publicans, taxi drivers, hairdressers and vets)
  • local support agencies (voluntary or community groups in the area, e.g. community development projects and family resource centres)
  • police
  • religious leaders
  • sporting organisations (e.g. members of the football club)
  • teachers
  • young people and youth workers

People with lived experience

It’s important to make sure that these people are well supported, kept safe, feel empowered, involved, valued and respected. When you set up the group it’s important to acknowledge the feelings of families who have lost a loved one. They can help you understand the best way to include those who are grieving. It’s helpful to let people with lived experience know in advance of any public meetings and you should ask them how involved they want to be and what sort of extra support they may need.

Structure the group

Decide together on:

  • the basic rules and guidelines about how the group will function (i.e. its code of conduct)
  • what it aims to do (i.e. terms of reference)
  • the group's values - download this fact sheet from Wesley LifeForce about getting consensus from the group on values.
    PDF icon Values_Fact_Sheet.pdf 
  • dispute resolution processes and processes for dissolving the group when it has achieved its objectives
  • who will carry out the roles, for example, chairperson, secretary, treasurer, publicity and communications person and fundraising.

Download this booklet from Wesley LifeForce about other considerations including legal structure of the group, incorporation, risk management and insurance.PDF icon Understanding Governance booklet.pdf

Consider whether establishing a LifeForce Suicide Prevention Network, with the assistance of Wesley LifeForce is what your group needs. LifeForce Member networks are provided with expert advice during network establishment, seed funding and ‘hands on’ support in planning and delivering suicide prevention projects in their local community.

Other considerations

To give your group the best chance to succeed, you also need to think about:

  • How often should the group meet?
    • This is determined by whether a one-off activity is planned, or a longer term action plan is proposed. The duration reflects how much time you need to plan, implement and review the action plan. Typically, it takes at least six months to plan, implement and review an activity.
  • What are the key objectives of the group?
    • You need to outline in your terms of reference what your group hopes to achieve. This helps create common ground and shared expectations in the group. Here's an example of what terms of reference look like.
  • Are there lessons to be learnt from other groups?
    • Could they act as mentors and advisors? You can find out about other groups through word of mouth or you could approach organisations such as Suicide Prevention Australia to find out about such groups. This knowledge is invaluable as it will help to promote your group’s success and functioning and avoid difficulties.

Work-in-progress checklist

  • Has a group been formed and how often is it meeting?
  • Does the group include all parts of the community and are numbers increasing?
  • Have you clearly set out the purpose and function of the group?
  • Have responsibilities for particular activities been assigned to individuals?
  • How will you let the community know the group has been formed?

Information you should keep

  • Records of meetings e.g. date, who attended, what was decided at the meeting
  • Registration roll/membership lists
  • Feedback from within and outside the group

Here’s what one community did

On the Central Coast of NSW a Suicide Safety Network was set up in 1996 following a rise in suicide deaths in the district – 27 in 1995 to 48 in 1996. It’s a community-based, non-profit organisation that aims to encourage communication between organisations and individuals who want to help reduce suicides.