Reflecting on lived experience: Suicide prevention and the importance of social work in mental health


  • Behiye Ali Faculty of Education and Social Work, University of Auckland, New Zealand
  • Barbara Staniforth Faculty of Education and Social Work, University of Auckland, New Zealand
  • Carole Adamson Faculty of Education and Social Work, University of Auckland, New Zealand



Suicide prevention, suicide interventions, lived experience, what works, psychosocial interventions, holistic model


INTRODUCTION: National suicide prevention strategies and action plans have, historically, been written without input from consumers/current users of mental health services. People who could arguably be seen as experts in this area are rarely asked for their knowledge regarding the efficacy of suicide prevention and intervention efforts. The aims of this study were to gain further insight into the effectiveness of suicide prevention intervention in Aotearoa New Zealand by asking service users “What works?” and to promote lived experience as a valid form of evidence. This article focuses on the importance of a holistic model of health and wellbeing and highlights the role played by social workers, both currently and in the future, regarding suicide prevention and intervention efforts.

METHODS: Twenty semi-structured interviews were conducted with individuals with lived experience of suicidal ideation and/or attempt.

FINDINGS: Using thematic analysis, a variety of interventions were identified which participants found effective, including exercise, addressing physical health needs, practising mindfulness, use of medications and spirituality. These interventions, and others, are presented as themes within a framework of people, body, mind and spirit.

CONCLUSIONS: It is important to view health holistically, and social workers can make an important contribution towards wellbeing through the provision of psychosocial interventions. Also, it is crucial to involve individuals with lived experience within research that informs policy and practice, and within collaborative treatment decisions.


Allen, R. (2014). The role of the social worker in adult mental health services. The College of Social Work. 10_0.pdf

Ali, B. (2019). What works? Individuals’ experiences and knowledge of suicide prevention interventions in Aotearoa/Aotearoa/New Zealand [Unpublished doctoral dissertation]. University of Auckland. handle/2292/46315?show=full

Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers. (2019). Code of ethics. uploads/Code-of-Ethics-Adopted-30-Aug-2019.pdf

Appleby, J., Staniforth, B., Flanagan, C., & Millar, C. (2020). Clinical social work in Aotearoa New Zealand: Origins, practice, and future implications. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 32(4), 103–115. anzswj-vol32iss4id798

Bennett, S., Flett, R., & Babbage, D. (2014). Culturally adapted cognitive behaviour therapy for Māori with major depression. The Cognitive Behaviour Therapist, 7, E20. doi:10.1017/S1754470X14000233

Benros, M. E., Waltoft, B. L., & Nordentoft, M. (2013).

Autoimmune diseases and severe infections as risk factors for mood disorders: A nationwide study.

Booysen, P. (2017). Aotearoa New Zealand strengths based counselling practice framework for social work [Unpublished doctoral dissertation]. University of Auckland.

Bradshaw, C., Atkinson, S., & Doody, O. (2017). Employing a qualitative description approach in health care research. Global Qualitative Nursing Research, 4(1), 108–113.

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77–101.

Cherrington, L. (2009). The process of reconciliation: Towards a Māori view. msd-and-our-work/publications-resources/research/ conduct-problems-best-practice/te-hohounga-mai-i-te- tirohanga-maori.html

Clark, T. C., Robinson, E., Crengle, S., Fleming, T., Ameratunga, S., Denny, S. J., Bearinger, L.H., Sieving, R. E., & Saewyc, E. (2011). Risk and protective factors for suicide attempt among indigenous Māori youth in New Zealand: The role of family connection. Journal of Aboriginal Health, 7, 16–31.

Cooper, B., & Parsons, J. (2010). Dialectical behaviour therapy: A social work intervention? Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 21(4), 83–93.

Coronial Services of New Zealand. (2019). Annual suicide statistics since 2011. https://coronialservices.justice.govt. nz/suicide/annual-suicide-statistics-since-2011/

Cramer, R. J., & Kapusta, N. D. (2017). A social-ecological framework of theory, assessment, and prevention of suicide. Frontiers in Psychology, 8(1756), 1664–1078.

Creswell, J. (2009). Research design. Qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods approaches (3rd ed.). Sage.

Dobl, S., Beddoe, L., & Huggard, P. (2017). Primary health care social work in Aotearoa New Zealand: An exploratory investigation. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 29(2), 119–130.

Doughty, C., & Tse, S. (2005). The effectiveness of service-user-run of service-user-led mental health services for people with mental illness: A systematic literature review. Mental Health Commission.

Drisko, J. (2017). Active collaboration with clients: An underemphasized but vital part of evidence-based practice. Social Work, 62(2), 114–121.

Durie, M. (1994). Whaiora: Māori health development. Oxford University Press.

Fawcett, J., & Busch, K. (2014). The pharmacologic treatment of suicidal patients. In M. Nock (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of suicide and self injury (pp. 385–396). Oxford University Press.

Flaxman, P. E., Blackledge, J. T., & Bond, F. W. (2010). Acceptance and commitment therapy. Routledge.

Gibson, S., Benson, O., & Brand, S. L. (2012). Talking about suicide, confidentiality and anonymity in qualitative research. Nursing Ethics, 20(1), 1–12. https://doi. org/10.1177%2F0969733012452684

Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction. (2018). He Ara Oranga (Pathways to Wellness). oranga/recommendations/

Halvorsrud, K., Kucharska, J., Adlington, K., Rüdell, K., Brown Hajdukova, E., Nazroo, J., Haarmans, M. Rhodes, J., & Bhui, K. (2019). Identifying evidence of effectiveness in the co-creation of research: a systematic review and meta-analysis of the international healthcare literature, Journal of Public Health, 1–12, fdz126. https://

Hammad, T. A., Laughren, T., & Racoosin, J. (2006). Suicidality in paediatric patients treated with antidepressant drugs. Archives of General Psychiatry, 63(1), 332–339. archpsyc.63.3.332

Lawson-Te Aho, K., & McClintock, K. (2020). Māori suicide prevention research, policy & practice. University of Otago & Te Rau Ora.

Le Va. (2020). Our work.

Linehan, M. M., Korslund, K. E., Harned, M. S., Gallop, R. J., Lungu, A., Neacsiu, A. D., & Murray-Gregory, A. M. (2015). Dialectical behavior therapy for high suicide risk in individuals with borderline personality disorder: A randomized clinical trial and component analysis. JAMA Psychiatry, 72(5), 475–482. http://doi:10.1001/ jamapsychiatry.2014.3039

Loughran, H. (2018). Counselling skills for social workers (1st ed.). Routledge.

Matlin, S. L., Molock, S. D., & Tebes, J. K. (2011). Suicidality and depression among African American adolescents: The role of family and peer support and community connectedness. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 81(1), 108–117. 0025.2010.01078.x

McMain, S. F., Links, P. S., Gnam, W. H., Guimond, T., Cardish, R. J., Korman, L., & Streiner, D. L. (2009). A randomized trial of dialectical behavior therapy versus general psychiatric management for borderline personality disorder. American Journal of Psychiatry, 166(10), 1365–1374. ajp.2009.09010039

Mead, S., Hilton. D., & Curtis, L. (2001). Peer support: A theoretical perspective. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 25(2), 2–29.

Mental Health Foundation. (2018). Physical activity for mental wellbeing. 11-Getting-active.pdf

Ministry of Health. (1998). In our hands. Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy. nbbooks.nsf/0/A95F484F5F299C7C4C25665D006F43D 4/$file/nzyouthsuicidepreventionstrategy-inourhands.pdf

Ministry of Health. (2015). Kia Piki te Ora Suicide Prevention Programme evaluation final report. Ministry of Health. suicide-prevention-programme-evaluation-final-report

Ministry of Health. (2019). Every life matters – He Tapu te Oranga o ia Tangata: Suicide Prevention Strategy 2019–2029. every-life-matters-he-tapu-te-oranga-o-ia-tangata- suicide-prevention-strategy-2019-2029-and-suicide

Ministry of Health. (2020). Mental health and addiction workforce development. our-work/mental-health-and-addiction/mental-health-and- addiction-workforce-development

OECD. (2019). Health status – Suicide rates – OECD Data.

Pattoni, L. (2012). Strengths-based approaches for working with individuals. insights/strengths-based-approaches-working-individuals

Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners.

(2018). You and your GP. Im_a_patient/You_and_your_GP.aspx?hkey=dc057656- a40f-4d58-b9ee-3897e2942b60

Ruiz, F. J. (2010). A review of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) empirical evidence: Correlational, experimental psychopathology, component and outcome studies. International Journal of Psychology and Psychological Therapy, 10(1), 125–162.

Silver, H. (2010). Understanding social inclusion and its meaning for Australia. Australian Journal of Social Issues, 45(2), 183–211. https://doi. org/10.1002/j.1839-4655.2010.tb00174

Tarrier, N., Taylor, K., & Gooding, P. (2008). Cognitive-behavioral interventions to reduce suicide behavior: A systematic review and meta- analysis. Behaviour Modification, 32(1), 77–108. doi:10.1177/0145445507304728

Tiatia-Seath, J. (2014). Pacific peoples, mental health service engagement and suicide prevention in Aotearoa New Zealand. Ethnicity and Inequalities in Health and Social Care, 7(3), 111–121. doi:10.1108/EIHSC-10-2013-0023

Tiatia-Seath, J. (2015). Suicide prevention for Tongan youth in New Zealand. Report to the Health Research Council of New Zealand and Ministry of Health for the Pacific Partnership Programme.

Ward-Ciesielski, E. F., & Linehan, M. M. (2014). Psychological treatment of suicidal behaviours. In M. Nock (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of suicide and self injury (pp. 367–384). Routledge.

Washburn, A., & Grossman, M. (2017). Being with a person in our care: Person-centered social work practice that is authentically person-centered. Journal of Gerontological Social Work, 60(5), 408–423. doi:10.1080/01634372.20 17.1348419

World Health Organisation. (2019). Suicide: Key facts. https://




How to Cite

Ali, B., Staniforth, B., & Adamson, C. (2021). Reflecting on lived experience: Suicide prevention and the importance of social work in mental health. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 33(2), 6–18.



Original Articles I