New data on Australians seeking help reveals the Prime Minister must reverse the decision to cut Medicare-funded mental health sessions until changes to Better Access are made, or alternatively immediately redirect the funds towards those at-risk.
The slashed Better Access funds need to be redirected to crisis and support lines and building workforce capacity to deal with the growing demand. Just this morning, Lifeline confirmed crisis calls have increased from 2,400 to almost 4,000 per day.
The vast majority (80%) of Australians diagnosed with a mental illness in the past 12 months are receiving treatment, the latest quarterly Suicide Prevention Australia Community Tracker reveals.
There are fears the Albanese Labor Government’s decision to cut one million Medicare-funded mental health sessions on December 31 this year could undermine this help-seeking behaviour, and simultaneously overload already stretched frontline services.
Peak body, Suicide Prevention Australia today calls on Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to step in and continue additional Medicare-funded Better Access sessions until reforms are delivered. This is one part of a broader multi-million dollar ‘relief package’ needed to help the sector keep up with millions of calls for help, online searches and sessions.
An independent evaluation by the University of Melbourne recommends continuation of additional Medicare-funded mental health sessions for complex mental health needs.
Part II of Suicide Prevention Australia’s Community Tracker for the December Quarter (2022), released today, found one-in-five Australian adults (22%) reported being formally diagnosed with a mental illness in the past 12 months.
A further 19% revealed they had been diagnosed with a mental illness at some point prior to the past 12 months, bringing the overall number of Australians diagnosed with mental illness in their lives to 42%. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data shows over 60% of people who die by suicide have a mental illness or behavioural disorder.
Access to timely, effective and affordable mental health treatment is critically important to suicide prevention.
Suicide Prevention Australia CEO, Nieves Murray said the findings were a positive sign that more and more Australians were seeking mental health support when they need it.
“We know people need help and are willing to get it. It’s the worst possible time to reduce support.
“We need a stronger safety net for those at-risk of missing out on critical support as a result of these changes.
“Every life lost to suicide is a tragedy and the impact spreads across families, schools, workplaces, sporting clubs and community groups. For those feeling distress, help is available and it’s important to reach out and seek support, particularly around Christmas which is a challenging time for many.
“It’s critical Australians in distress have a safety net. Winding back access to help in these uncertain economic and social times risks undoing decades of good work.
“The Albanese Government’s decision to cut one million Medicare-funded mental health sessions without any plan for those losing support is devastating,” said Ms Murray.
“The Prime Minister has been an advocate for suicide prevention and told our sector in September that lowering suicide rates is a priority for his government.
“Last month the Prime Minister intervened to reverse cuts to mental health supports for front line emergency service workers, we need him to do the same today.
“The vast majority (88%) of suicide prevention and mental health services have also told us they’re already facing increased demand as suicide rates and distress increases.
Indications from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Suicide and Self-harm Monitoring System point to a 10% increase in suicides in NSW and Victoria in 2022.
“Research shows suicide rates can peak two to three years after a crisis. Urgent action is required to address concerning levels of distress and the risk of increasing suicide rates in our community,” said Ms Murray.
Part I of the December Quarterly Suicide Prevention Australia Community Tracker, released earlier this week, found 71% of Australians reported elevated levels of distress compared with this time last year.
Cost-of-living and personal debt (40%) was the number one issue, while housing access and affordability has grown faster (+5%) than all other causes of distress over the past three months.
Suicide Prevention Australia recently joined with over 40 prominent organisations and individuals – including RUOK?, yourtown, Wesley Mission, ReachOut, Mates in Construction and batyr – in an open letter delivered to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and all 227 MPs and Senators calling for a National Suicide Prevention Act to be delivered now. The Australian public (79%) also support this call.
South Australians showed the strongest support of the five mainland states, following their state government introducing a Suicide Prevention Act in the past 12 months. The NSW Labor Opposition has promised to introduce such an Act if it wins the 2023 state election.
To get help 24/7, phone Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467. If you or someone you know are in immediate danger, phone 000 for emergency services.
The Suicide Prevention Australia Community Tracker is undertaken in partnership with YouGov plc. Total sample size was 1022 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 9th -13th November 2022. The survey was completed online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all Australian adults (aged 18+).
Clare Kinsella 0427 689 689 or email@example.com
Amelia Hew 0410 591 134 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Help to report about suicide safely is available online: Go to https://mindframe.org.au/
About Suicide Prevention Australia
Suicide Prevention Australia is the national peak body and we’ve been providing support for Australia’s suicide prevention sector for more than 25 years. We support and advocate for our members to drive continual improvement in suicide prevention policy, programs and services. Our reach is broad, including member organisations, governments, businesses, researchers, practitioners and those with lived experience. We are focused on an integrated approach to suicide prevention encompassing mental health, social, economic and community factors. We believe that through collaborative effort and shared purpose, we can achieve our vision of a world without suicide.