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Suicide prevention – Ongoing care for patients and self-care for GPs

Ongoing care for patients

Even if you’re satisfied that your patient is not at immediate risk of harm, it is still important to initiate appropriate followup to prevent gaps in the mental healthcare of your patients. Some possible follow up actions might be:

  • to make a plan for a follow-up appointment to develop a GP Mental Health Treatment Plan (GPMHTP)
  • if you’ve already prepared a GPMHTP, you might make plans to refer the patient on to an allied health professional (ensure that you follow up with your patient if this is your plan of action)
  • to introduce a follow-up text messaging service to remind patients about a scheduled appointment or to encourage them to make a follow-up appointment
  • to set the patient some homework or refer them to an e-mental health resource to ensure a follow-up plan is in place
  • to work on some activity scheduling with your patient over the period of time until you see them next/they have an appointment with an allied health practitioner
  • to provide some psychoeducation to your patients (and their family/carer if applicable) explaining and normalising their mental health condition/issue
  • if you are an eligible Focused Psychological Strategies (FPS) provider, you might schedule in some FPS sessions with your patient
  • to give your patient hope – with the right treatment, most people will be able to manage their illness and live a normal life.

Ongoing care for you

It is important for GPs who spend a lot of time working with patients with mental health issues/people at risk of suicide, to be mindful of their own mental health and their risk of burnout.Burnout is a syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation and reduced personal accomplishment that can occur among individuals who work with people in some capacity.26

Burnout might occur when GPs face repeated exposure to traumatic and distressing experiences of others27 and highly stressful situations such as working with a patient who is at high risk of suicide. It has been suggested that GPs are less likely to suffer from burnout when they regularly engage in educational activities to maintain, develop or increase their knowledge and skills.28 To reduce the risk of burnout, ensure you include some self-care strategies as part of your ongoing continuing professional development (CPD).

Reducing the risk of burnout

  • Seek out supervision/consultation (individual or group)
  • Make time for activities that are relaxing or de-stressing, such as exercise, spending time with friends, hobbies
  • Engage in regular mental health CPD activities, such as small group learning sessions ;

Further reading and patient resources

Black Dog Institute – Self-care webinar for GPs

The National Rural Health Alliance – Case studies on rural GP self-care

RACGP – Abuse and violence: Working with our patients in general practice, Chapter 14. The doctor and the importance of self-care

Psychiatric Times – Patient suicide: Impact on clinicians

RACGP – e-Mental health: A guide for GPs

RACGP – GPMHTP templates

Black Dog Institute – Psychological tool kit


beyondblue – Depression guide

beyondblue – Anxiety guide

Black Dog Institute – Understanding your depressive episode

Activity scheduling and other clinical interventions

Centre for Clinical Interventions – GP resources

Department of Health – Phase 5: Pleasant event and activity scheduling


Suicide prevention and first aid a resource for GPs