NIEVES MURRAY, CEO, Suicide Prevention Australia
Suicide is a complicated human behaviour with many diverse risk factors. It’s not simply mental health, it’s housing, relationships, income and isolation too. Preventing suicide is very complex. There’s sadly no single solution and we’ll never shift the dial on suicide rates unless we look across government and the community.
What about targets? Targets are simple yet suicide is complex and the evidence doesn’t support them. While some gains were made under a 20-year-old Scottish target, this was more to do with increased investment in services. Sadly, the current Scottish target is not on-track and suicides have increased in recent years. A United Kingdom target of a 10% reduction from 2015-2020 failed. Targets can be gamed and distract from the real issue. When it comes to suicide, the only acceptable target is zero.
What about funding? We’ve seen record investment into suicide prevention. Every dollar has been needed and more still. Yet money alone doesn’t always equal lives saved.
So what will work? Accountability is critical.
After many reviews, we know what needs to be done and it’s time to do it. Our National Policy Platform is pushing for the Australian Government to announce a Suicide Prevention Act immediately to legislate action. This would require a Suicide Prevention Plan, governance arrangements for reporting and lived experience and require agencies to consider suicide risks and prevention in their work. It’s our best chance at turning the trend towards zero suicide because it recognises the role we all have to play.
It means every single government agency and official, whether they work in housing, education or any other department, must look at the work they’re doing through a suicide prevention lens. An Act is a powerful mechanism for accountability and something that the government can actually do.
Sadly, over 3,000 lives are lost to suicide each year. Every life lost is a suicide that should have been prevented. Zero is the only acceptable number as we work towards a world without suicide.
To date, we’ve managed to contain any increases in suicide rates over the past few years. Yet, we know through crisis line, emergency department and ambulance data that there’s real, ongoing distress in our community.
Suicide prevention service providers are working tirelessly to keep up with the growing level of distress in communities.
We also know from past crises that it’s not until two to three years later that suicide rates can peak, after protective supports cease and immediate social cohesion subsides.
Accordingly, this next term of Parliament is a critical juncture. What we do now and what we put in place over this period will determine whether we can continue to contain suicide rates as we emerge from the pandemic.
Knee jerk reactions will not be enough. A thoughtful, sustained, policy approach is a fundamental ingredient to saving more lives.