Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Development of mental health first aid guidelines for suicidal ideation and behaviour: A Delphi study

Claire M Kelly*, Anthony F Jorm, Betty A Kitchener and Robyn L Langlands

Author Affiliations

ORYGEN Research Centre, University of Melbourne, Australia

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Psychiatry 2008, 8:17  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-8-17

Published: 18 March 2008



Suicide is a statistically rare event, but devastating to those left behind and one of the worst possible outcomes associated with mental illness. Although a friend, family member or co-worker may be the first person to notice that a person is highly distressed, few have the knowledge and skills required to assist. Simple guidelines may help such a person to encourage a suicidal individual to seek professional help or decide against suicide.


This research was conducted using the Delphi methodology, a method of reaching consensus in a panel of experts. Experts recruited to the panels included 22 professionals, 10 people who had been suicidal in the past and 6 carers of people who had been suicidal in the past. Statements about how to assist someone who is thinking about suicide were sourced through a systematic search of both professional and lay literature. The guidelines were written using the items most consistently endorsed by all three panels.


Of 114 statements presented to the panels, 30 were accepted. These statements were used to develop the guidelines appended to this paper.


There are a number of actions which are considered to be useful for members of the public when they encounter someone who is experiencing suicidal thoughts or engaging in suicidal behaviour. These guidelines will be useful in revision of curricula of mental health first aid and suicide intervention training programs. They can also be used by members of the public who want immediate information about how to assist a suicidal person.