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We Need To Blow Open The Conversation To #StopSuicide

The hunger for shared experiences related to mental illness is strong.

01/05/2017 6:50 AM AEST | Updated 01/05/2017 6:51 AM AEST

We've made so much progress in so many areas. Every decade the road toll comes down. As a nation we're kicking the smokes. Survival rates in many cancers are increasing, with better treatment and diagnosis.

But what about mental health?

Organisations such as Lifeline Australia are combining 50 years of experience with the latest communication tools to reach more Australians than ever. BeyondBlue and the Black Dog Institute are world leaders in the field.

Many employers are prioritising mental health like never before, understanding it's not just a pastoral issue but a productivity issue.

And when it comes to their children's mental health, parents are armed with more information and support than ever before.

And yet, for the past 10 years the suicide rate in Australia has not dropped. Now more than 3,000 people die by suicide in Australia every year -- almost eight people per day.

According to a brief prepared by Alan Woodward, Executive Director of the Lifeline Research Foundation, for every suicide 135 people feel the impact, including family members, colleagues, friends and emergency workers.

  • Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians between the ages of 15 and 44 years.
  • Suicide deaths in Australia are three to four times greater among men. In 2015, 75 percent of the deaths by intentional self-harm were males and 24.3 percent females.
  • 41 percent of all suicide deaths are between 35 and 54 years of age.
  • The highest suicide rates are for males aged between 40 and 54 years of age, and over 85 years of age.
  • Between 2011 and 2015, there were 413 suicide deaths of persons aged between five and 17 years of age -- 233 males and 180 females.

No one is more acutely aware of this lack of progress than the people at the front line of the constant, tremendous, effort to make a dent in this terrible situation.

"It's clear that what we're doing as a society right now is not working -- and it needs to change," said Lifeline Australia CEO Peter Shmigel.

"We know from Lifeline's 54 years of compassionate help-giving experience that there is more to suicide than mental illness."

When we launched HuffPost Australia almost two years ago we decided as a team to throw a lot of energy into mental health coverage because quite a few of the staff were deeply passionate about the topic.

We had an unscientific hunch there was an audience hunger for it. After all, more than any other social issue, mental illness touches all Australians, directly or indirectly.

But even we were amazed by the response to the Headstart section on our website. On our blog platform we've published hundreds of posts about mental health, suicide and society's pressures. Some from the leaders of the mental health sector, and many, many more from people outside the mental health system.

Surgeon Nikki Stamp's posts about depression and suicide in the medical profession have been a revelation.

HuffPost Australia editor Chris Paine and Head of Lifestyle Leigh Campbell have shared their own experiences with mental illness in posts that garnered a wave of feedback from people searching for ways to feel less alone in their own struggle.

Chris Paine and video editor Emily Verdouw's story about the suicide of Chris's dear friend Nic MacBean, with the generous co-operation of Nic's family, remains one of our most powerful stories.

And Emily's latest dive into the effects of the Australian myth of masculinity on the mental health of our men, has also been widely shared.

This video will today kick off proceedings at the Lifeline #stopsuicide summit, where we plan to call on the collective expertise of a room full of Australia's most dynamic leaders.

Attending will be country managers and CEOs of some of our biggest companies in sectors including finance, retail and transport, senior sports administrators, and leaders of industry groups representing hundreds of thousands of workers and employers.

Their task -- tackle the crisis of suicide using all their leadership and problem-solving skills.

"The wide-ranging experience and expertise of the group of leaders that will gather for the Summit reflects the importance of taking a whole-of-community approach to this whole-of-community issue, and having a discussion beyond the traditional mental health focus," Shmigel said.

"It's time to think strategically, innovatively and -- most importantly -- differently. We are turning to you for problem solving around suicide."

Our hunch at HuffPost Australia proved correct in ways we didn't dare predict. The hunger for shared experiences related to mental illness is strong.

Today's summit won't be the conclusion of the conversation -- it's only the beginning.

We'll report back on what comes out of today and continue telling people's stories in the hope that together we can finally bring those terrible numbers down.

If you'd like to get involved join us on our Twitter account using the hashtags #stopsuicide #stopsuicidesummit or submit a blog post blogteam@huffingtonpost.com.au.

Lifeline is exploring Australia's suicide crisis with business and community leaders at the #StopSuicide Summit on May 1, in partnership with HuffPost Australia and Twitter Australia.

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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