POLITICS

Here's What The Government Is Doing About Suicide

They've committed $4.2 billion to mental health this year.

05/05/2017 4:52 PM AEST | Updated 05/05/2017 4:52 PM AEST

In 2015, 3027 people died by suicide in Australia. That's the highest number in at least a decade, more than eight people each day. It's the leading cause of death for Australians aged 15 to 44, and men are three times more likely than women to take their own lives.

It's a crisis which has not escaped the attention of the federal government, and health minister Greg Hunt.

"This is an individual tragedy in every case, but it is a national crisis and what we've been doing has made things better, but it's not good enough and it has to be better still," Hunt told ABC's 7.30 in February.

The Turnbull Government has said mental health is one of its top priorities, with $4.2 billion in funding for the sector including suicide prevention and awareness services a particular focus. A new mental health advisory panel, co-chaired by Mental Health Australia CEO Frank Quinlan and National Mental Health Commission CEO Dr Peggy Brow, was recently established and reforms to the sector have been rolling out gradually in recent months.

"Mental health support is matter of national importance and the Minister has announced that it will be one of the four key elements of the Government's Long Term National Health Plan," a spokesperson for Hunt told HuffPost Australia.

"One of his first acts as Health Minister was to meet with four families who were touched by suicide or attempted suicide."

Just last month, Hunt announced a new National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan, to be built in consultation with the states and territories and the mental health sector.

"The Minister is committed to ensuring there is further funding for specific suicide prevention activities," Hunt's office said.

"This year the Turnbull Government is investing $4.2 billion to support people with mental illness to receive the treatment and support they need."

In February, Hunt announced the expansion of a trial suicide prevention program which established pilot centres in areas with higher than average suicide rates. Western NSW, central Queensland, Darwin and the Geraldton region in Western Australia were added to the list which had previously included Brisbane North, the NSW north coast, north-west Melbourne, Perth south, Townsville, the Kimberley, Tasmania and country South Australia.

"We recognise that the causes of suicide and the resources needed to prevent it will vary from town to town, and from region to region. The resources needed to tackle suicide in a regional farming community in drought may be very different to the resources needed to tackle suicide in inner city Sydney," Hunt said in announcing the trial expansion.

"We are bringing together and coordinating federal, state and local governments, GPs and mental health service providers to identify issues and deliver a tailored response to a community or individual need."

In April, continuing the theme of making mental health services available to people outside city areas, Hunt announced the roll-out of a telehealth program for rural psychological services. People in rural areas would be able to access a new Medicare rebate for online videoconferencing with psychologists, access which would have been difficult or impossible if people were forced to travel to bigger towns or cities.

At the last election, Turnbull committed $192 million to mental health. That included guaranteeing funding for Headspace, as well as building another 10 centres, taking the national total to 110 facilities. Also included was funding to develop an online mental health network called Project Synergy, and $26 million to support ten "Primary Health Network mental health lead sites".

Lifeline is exploring Australia's suicide emergency with business and community leaders. The #StopSuicideSummit was held on May 1 in partnership with HuffPost Australia and Twitter.

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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