Matthew McLean, Acting Chief Executive Officer, Suicide Prevention Australia
The incoming Albanese Government will be announcing the full make-up of the cabinet in the coming days. When the Prime Minister approaches the podium to announce his first ministry, we hope to hear him announce a Minister for Suicide Prevention.
Why do we need a Minister for Suicide Prevention? The causes of suicide are complex. Mental health is a significant factor but not the only one. Financial crisis, relationship breakdown, alcohol and other drugs are well-known risk factors. As are social isolation, job loss and insecurity, all of which we’ve witnessed during the pandemic.
When the cause is complex, so too is the cure. We need to address it across government and the community. We need to look at the upstream causes. This requires action in the areas of welfare support, social housing, alcohol and other drugs, to name only a few. We need a Minister that has the authority to do this, to bust silos and break down barriers.
Why now? We are at a critical time for suicide prevention. Despite the increased distress, we did not see an increase in suicide deaths. There will be many reasons for this but a significant factor was the boosting of a range of government and government-funded supports.
This was not just increased funding to helplines and other mental health and suicide prevention support services, it was also the increased support that addressed the range of factors that can drive suicide: JobSeeker, JobKeeper, and eviction moratoriums all played a role in containing rates of suicide deaths.
With many of the pandemic supports no longer in place, now is the time for action.
Around 65,000 people attempt suicide each year and that gives us so many reasons to act now before any more lives are impacted by the ripple effect of suicide and self-harm.
Research on suicide rates show us that it’s often two to three years after a natural disaster that the number of suicide deaths increase. So already, we’re facing a challenging time ahead.
Couple this with rising interest rates, housing affordability issues and the skyrocketing cost of living which is on everyone’s lips – we need to be very careful and consider our next steps with precision. We can’t afford to not have a dedicated minister for suicide prevention at this time.
The work of the Prime Minister’s advisor on suicide Prevention, Christine Morgan, resulted in a clear roadmap for reform that is strongly and broadly supported. But work implementing this advice has only just begun, and in our view needs to be accelerated if we are to meet the challenges of the post-pandemic period.
A Minister for Suicide Prevention will be most effective at the cabinet level where they can be fully aware of and influence government across the broad range of activities that impact suicide. This role would champion suicide prevention across portfolios, oversee implementation of the Final Advice and lead work on a whole-of-government approach to suicide prevention.
The solutions that will drive down the rates of suicide will come from across government and our community. The last Labor Government was the first to appoint a Mental Health Minister. Let’s hope in coming days the next one will be the first to appoint a Minister for Suicide Prevention.