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Media Alert: Urgent action needed to prepare for potential increase in suicide rates

Media Alert: Urgent action needed to prepare for potential increase in suicide rates

Australia’s national peak body for suicide prevention, Suicide Prevention Australia, has responded to University of Sydney modelling indicating a 25-50% increase in suicide rates due to COVID-19 by calling on Government to overhaul the suicide prevention system and to tackle the root causes of suicide.

Suicide Prevention Australia, CEO, Nieves Murray said Government must desist from “policy on the run” in suicide prevention, and listen to the sector to instigate methodical and systemic change.

“We can never underestimate the impact that every life lost to suicide has on family, friends, workplaces and the broader community.

“The last thing we need is quick fixes, with piecemeal funding for individual programs and services.

“Continuing to do the same thing, or more of the same, will not change the rate of suicide. We must think and act differently.

“We need an inclusive, whole-of-government, whole-of-community effort to create a mentally well society and prevent suicides from occurring, both during the COVID-19 pandemic and after.

“This means creating an environment where all parts of government work together to prevent suicide – tackling risk factors like unemployment, housing insecurity, and financial distress, rather than waiting until people in our community reach the point of crisis.

“We know that at least 15% of all suicide deaths aren’t connected with an established mental health issue, but are connected to distressing life events like losing a job, being in too much debt, being socially isolated or losing a loved one.

“We’re calling on the Government this Friday to take a long term view in its national package, and one which considers suicide as an expression of many factors – not just mental ill health,” said Ms Murray.

Suicide Prevention Australia is calling for the following:

  • Investing in a dedicated, well-resourced National Suicide Prevention Office.
  • Passing a Suicide Prevention Act to make every government agency responsible for tackling the root causes of suicide – as we see in nations that have seen a reduction in their suicide rate, like the Republic of Ireland and Japan.
  • Set up a national suicide register as a priority.
  • Train key ‘connectors’ in frontline Government roles to recognise the signs of suicidal distress and connect them to support services – this means suicide prevention training for every Centrelink and/or tax office across the nation.
  • Rolling out a new iteration of the National Mental Health and Wellbeing Survey over the next two months, so we have a clear picture rather than just predictive modelling.
  • Sharing real-time data with all government departments, as well as suicide prevention researchers, program and service agents.
  • Funding the states and territories to rapidly set up safe space ‘pop ups’ so that people who are in suicidal crisis have options other than waiting in emergency departments for help.

“If the Government listens to our recommendations, then we can start to turn the tide of suicide in Australia.

“I urge the Government to not be reactive to the loudest voice, or work with the chosen few, but listen to the messages of the broader sector.

“Now is the time to take action – before the crisis becomes unmanageable, and thousands of vulnerable people are left in distress and risk hitting crisis point,” said Ms Murray.