How Australia Is Changing Its Approach To Suicide Prevention

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Experts want to see Australia totally revolutionise the way it tries to prevent suicides.  

They’re calling for a permanent government body to be created to tackle Australia’s rising suicide rate.  

So, what would that plan look like? And why does Australia need to change its approach to suicide prevention?  

Australia And Suicide Prevention

Australia’s suicide rate has been rising for the past decade.

Last year over 3,300 Australians died by suicide and it’s the leading cause of death for people between 15 and 49 years old.  

The suicide rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders is about twice that of the non-Indigenous population.   

The government acknowledged this problem last year when they appointed Australia’s first National Suicide Prevention Adviser.  

Her name is Christine Morgan and she recently released an important report that made some pretty ground breaking recommendations to the PM, to help fight the suicide rate.  

Morgan said that Australia needs a National Suicide Prevention Office, which would basically be a central body that makes suicide prevention a priority in government.   

We spoke to Rebecca Burdick Davies about this. She’s the director of policy at Suicide Prevention Australia. 

Rebecca Burdick Davies: “That probably sounds a bit boring and bureaucratic, but it means something. And we know it means something because countries that have seen a long-term decline in their suicide rate – including among young people – countries like Japan and Ireland … have a national structure put in place. So from our perspective at Suicide Prevention Australia, it was just a really hopeful day in the political calendar for us.” 

Advocacy For Suicide Prevention Change

Advocate have been calling for a national suicide prevention office for years.

Rebecca said that advocates have been calling for a National Suicide Prevention Office for years.   

Right now, the way that Australia tries to prevent suicides is mainly through our health services and hospitals.  

But that system needs an overhaul and Rebecca told me that’s really because we need to change our entire perception of what causes suicides.  

RBD: “If we have a National Office of Suicide Prevention … then they’d be holding every minister, every Government department to account for suicide prevention and that is a really massive shift.  

Because I think that we’ve historically seen suicide as a manifestation of mental health, so it’s a mental health problem and that’s the basket that it’s been put into. What the research shows is that suicide – I think up to a half of all suicides – isn’t connected to an established mental health problem; it’s connected to a whole other range of crises that occur in somebody’s life.” 

Mental health issues are obviously a huge contributing factor to suicides, but around 50% of people who die by suicide don’t have a known mental health condition and the current strategies for prevention aren’t capturing those people.  

RBD: “A lot of the data we know from Queensland, from Victoria, from NSW does seem to indicate that people do tend to make a snap decision when they’re under enormous stress, when things have happened like job loss, [or] relationship breakdown in particular.” 

Covid’s Impact

The stress that’s come with the pandemic has made the situation even more urgent.

Rebecca told me that the stress that’s come with the pandemic has made this situation even more urgent.  

RBD: “What we know is that there’s been an increase in the rate of self-harm and attempts and that’s something that we need to pay careful watch to. I think in Victoria there was an increase of 9.9% state wide and 30% for young people. What we know is that when you see that increase in self harm and attempts, you really need to start acting very quickly so that it doesn’t then, down the track translate to an increase in suicide.” 

Right now, Christine Morgan’s recommendation isn’t guaranteed to happen and Suicide Prevention Australia are going to be lobbying until next year’s budget to make sure it does.  

RBD: “Every single suicide death is a tragedy  most, if not all, suicide deaths are preventable and if we can prevent even one suicide death from occurring, I think we should be throwing every resource, every bit of passion we have at that effort.” 

The Takeaway 

Australia has the chance to really change how we think about suicides and tackle the rising suicide rate.  

And this recommendation has come at a critical moment, because suicide experts are really worried about what will continue to happen to the lives of Australians in the wake of the pandemic 

If you or anyone you know needs help, please call:  

Lifeline13 11 14 

MensLine Australia1300 789 978 

Suicide Call Back Service1300 659 467