Malcolm Turnbull Voices A Personal Commitment To Suicide Prevention

Australia's suicide crisis gets the PM on the phone.

24/05/2016 12:50 PM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:53 PM AEST
Malcolm Turnbull didn't hold the phone when his commitments to mental health were questioned.

When mental health advocates released rising suicide rates in a public call for politicians to commit to mental health after the election, a personal phone call from the Prime Minister probably wasn't expected.

But on Tuesday morning Professor Ian Hickie's phone rang with none other than Malcolm Turnbull on the line.

"He was trying to make it clear that before [his party's] announcement was made that he was personally committed," Hickie, who is Co-Director of the University of Sydney's Brain and Mind Centre and National Mental Health Commissioner, told The Huffington Post Australia.

"At a systemic level [the Coalition] will respond later in the campaign but he is personally committed to making a big difference in this area."

Hickie and his fellow advocates want to halve the suicide rate by 50 percent and the only way they can hope to achieve this is by focussing on the areas where there is "two to three times the suicide rate", said the Professor.

On Tuesday, leaders in suicide and mental health released new details on the suicide rates in 28 Federal electorates revealing regional and rural areas suffered the most. In particular, regions who have suffered from the mining downturn and closure of regional industries, where higher unemployment rates and economic uncertainty existed.

Suicide deaths also increased by more than 20 percent between 2004 and 2014, and it is the leading cause of death in Australians aged between 15 and 44 years. The rate of indigenous suicide is double the rate of non-indigenous suicide -- you can read Lifeline Australia CEO Peter Shmigal's thoughts on that here.

Fairfax: Gary Schafer
National Mental Health Commissioner Ian Hickie

Mental health experts urged politicians to commit to the suicide prevention program including the implementation of 12 large regional trials recommended by the National Mental Health Commission, which Labor committed to when they were first recommended in 2014.

After calling Hickie on Tuesday morning, Turnbull told reporters the Coalition "will leave no stone unturned" in improving and advancing the mental health of Australia.

The Prime Minister stood with Minister for Rural Health, Fiona Nash, in the electorate of Corangamite, which the new research revealed had the second highest suicide rate in Australia from 2009-2012.

"You may not be aware but my electorate of Wentworth includes The Gap at Watson's Bay which is the place in Australia regrettably where more people take their lives than anywhere else," Turnbull said.

"Suicide and suicide prevention has been a very keen personal interest of mine and I've come to learn a lot about it, particularly through my discussions with Professor Ian Hickie who talks and writes about what he calls the mental wealth of nations.

"There is no doubt that mental health or mental illness has an enormous cost on our community. A tragic cost, obviously on the individuals who take their own lives and on their families but also a huge economic cost as well. That is why we are putting more money than ever, particularly into front line primary health mental health services."

Shadow Health Minister Katy Gallagher reinstated Labor's commitment to the 12 regional trials which were also backed by the Greens on Tuesday. The Greens announced a $1.4 billion mental health plan on Monday which you can read all about here.

Suicides in 28 federal electorates from 2009 until 2012.

"Through conservative community action in twelve regions of Australia where you've got the capability to track what is happening, [the trials will] join up the emergency services, the community services, the health services," Hickie said.

"They will put in the technology so you can connect people in the middle of the night to provide interventions, to provide support which then leads into the appropriate management. It connects people to people, and people to services."

The Federal Government committed to the National Mental Health Commission's review in November but did not commit to the trials. Turnbull's government has still not committed to the trials, but the Prime Minister told Hickie he plans making use of 21st century technologies and approaches in addressing suicide prevention in a big way. An unsurprising move from the Innovation Prime Minister.

And overall, the political response has simply been "fabulous", said Hickie.

"We've seen a whole heap of parliamentarians take the pledge to be part of a parliament -- not just a party or government -- that takes a leadership position on suicide prevention in Australia. No matter who the government of the day is."

If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression contact beyondBlue on 1300224636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.

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