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Time To Change The Trend On Suicide

Suicides are not inevitable, and can be prevented.

06/06/2016 5:19 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:53 PM AEST
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There are little to no ideological differences when it comes to preventing suicides -- this is a shared moral responsibility for anyone and everyone that cares about human life.

The Prime Minister boldly declared recently that no stone would be left unturned in protecting, improving and advancing the mental health of Australia. Yet, at the same time, we are seeing a significant and nationwide dismantling of vital services to achieving exactly this purpose.

A key example is the ceasing of counseling and crucial mental health programs provided to hundreds of families in drought affected areas in the New England North West. Given the higher rates of suicidal behavior and self-harm among the farming population, it seems bizarrely counter-intuitive to discontinue support for these services. This comes at a time when a major report profiling rates of suicide across 28 Federal electorates highlighted farming areas such as Canning, Capricornia, and Corangamite as those where the most amount of life is lost due to suicide. Much like New England, these areas are characterised by greater economic uncertainty and stress due to a downturn in the production of resources.

The cuts to these services don't just affect our farming population, but extend themselves to an area where the nation has sought to make enormous progress -- in that of youth mental health. As the Prime Minister was officially opening a Headspace centre in Bondi Junction over the weekend, staff located at the Tonsley Headspace centre in Adelaide were continuing preparations to cease all operations by July. To an outsider considering these developments, it defies logical thought and a clear vision as to where we are heading with mental health in Australia.

It is a shocking reality that suicides in Australia have increased by as much as 22 percent over the past decade, at a present high of 2,862 deaths as per the most recent data available. And with approximately 65,000 people attempting to take their lives every year, the economic and social costs to families and communities is enormous. This is a public health crisis, but it is also a deep personal emergency for many of us in the community.

Since graduating from high school in 2010, my peer group has been rocked by the tragic suicides of far too many friends. We have lost intelligent, compassionate, and remarkable young men -- all before the age of 24. They've left behind families who are still searching for answers and who desperately wish that they could've done more. Our community mourns their absence. Every time we lose someone we love, we have to keep asking ourselves: why are we not seeing more action on this issue?

Whatever the reason, the time to change the trend on suicides is well overdue. This Federal Election is an opportunity to demand more action from leaders across all political parties on this issue, and galvanise community attention in a way we've never seen before. We need to urgently come together to not only believe that things can be different, but enact the steps to ensure that they can be.

Suicides are not inevitable, and can be prevented. There is a clear rationale as to why, over the past four decades, deaths by motor vehicle accidents have continued to see a steady decrease. The campaign for safety on the roads has been commanded in the most powerful way possible, a whole of community approach towards a zero-death future. This is not merely a three word slogan, but rather, the underpinning vision of a system where individuals are driving on safer roads, at safer speeds, in safer vehicles, and as safer people. Once an unwieldy epidemic and the cause of a significant amount of premature death in individuals, road tolls have been curbed by evidence-based measures that have included seatbelts, breath tests, and other initiatives that are now a non-negotiable bedrock of everyday living.

In fact, experts have long advocated for a similar systems approach to preventing suicides, comprising of pillars such as responsible reporting of the issue -- so that individuals are beginning to have frank and open conversations about suicides; and being able to train family members and medical practitioners on how to recognise signs and symptoms of someone in distress earlier. Numerous studies show that restricting means to access, through installing barriers and safety nets in high risk locations, can reduce suicides at these sites by a staggering 90 percent.

Most pressingly, we need to continue reorienting our mental health services in such a way that they provide timely care to those experiencing the most amount of distress. It is beyond unacceptable that one in three patients hospitalised for psychiatric care do not receive continuing support post their discharge, and that we do not have a consistent plan suicide prevention right around the country. There are little to no ideological differences when it comes to preventing suicides -- this is a shared moral responsibility for anyone and everyone that cares about human life.

It is clear that despite the need to find out more, compelling evidence already exists. And the strategies for action are plentiful. Some states are faring better than others, such as the Victoria, who are to be commended for increasing their funding investment towards suicide prevention. However, this is an issue that cuts across every border and every community in our nation -- and for which we require, comprehensive nationwide leadership. That is the only way we can turn the tide on suicides.

If the Prime Minister is serious about leaving no stone unturned with respect to the mental health of our country, then he needs to match his words with timely and substantive action.

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If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 131114 or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300659467. Further information and general support are available from beyond blue on 1300224636.

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