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Record demand for suicide prevention services signals positive shift in behaviour

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Record numbers of Australians are heeding the call to seek help from suicide prevention services in a “silver lining” that shows the sector is making a major contribution to keeping the community safe, according to a new report released today, September 10, World Suicide Prevention Day.

Suicide Prevention Australia CEO Nieves Murray says young people are seeking help at twice the rate of their parent’s generations, following decades of awareness-raising, stigma reduction initiatives and advocacy.

“Creating hope through action is an important part of World Suicide Prevention Day and every other day of the year,” Murray says. 

Suicide Prevention Australia has released its second annual State of the Nation in Suicide Prevention report, which shows 84 per cent of suicide prevention services and workers experienced an increase in demand in the past 12 months (August 2020 to August 2021). This is an increase on 78 per cent (+6pp) on the same period last year.

“It’s a highly collaborative sector with 75 per cent of respondents working in partnership with Government or other organisations,” Murray says.

“The sector is united in urging a whole-of-government approach to suicide prevention, with 95 per cent of respondents supporting this reform.”

The State of the Nation in Suicide Prevention report shows 85 per cent of the suicide prevention sector support all government decisions considering and mitigating suicide impacts – which a national Suicide Prevention Act would deliver – as well as 67 per cent of Australians.

In the community, 29 per cent of Australians report they discussed suicide concerns about themselves or with someone else over the same 12-month period.

This includes young people (18- 34) reporting having conversations about suicide (40 per cent) and seeking help (41 per cent) at twice the rate of their parent’s generations (20 per cent and 19 per cent respectively).

MATES is a charity established in 2008 to reduce the high level of suicide among Australian construction workers.

Its CEO Chris Lockwood says the organisation has seen a 40 per cent increase in calls over the past 12 months, which signals that people are reaching out.

“We are working hard on the ground to reduce the high level of suicide among Australian construction workers,” Lockwood says.

“Not everyone is comfortable seeking help through a formal or clinical setting and MATES offers another option for people in distress.”

LivingWorks Australia CEO Shayne Connell says his suicide intervention training organisation has had unprecedented demand for suicide first aid skills training – from community members, first responders and schools, often following incidents in the community.

“We are only three quarters of the way through 2021 and already doubled the number of people trained the previous year,” he says.

Murray says the increase in service demand showed Australians were hearing the message and seeking help.

“Physical distancing does not mean emotional and social distancing – it is important for ourselves, our loved ones and our communities to remain emotionally and socially connected.”

Suicide Prevention Australia CEO Nieves Murray

However, she says it’s important the “herculean” efforts of many suicide prevention services during the pandemic do not overshadow the fact that they are a “sector under great strain”, both professionally and personally.

“We need to listen and respond to the voice of people with lived and living experience of suicide,” she says.

“Every life lost to suicide is heartbreaking. It’s important to remember that every statistic represents a life lost and a cascade of grief amongst family, friends, schools, workplaces and community groups.

“Physical distancing does not mean emotional and social distancing – it is important for ourselves, our loved ones and our communities to remain emotionally and socially connected,” Murray says.

Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) President, Associate Professor Vinay Lakra, says addressing workforce shortages and funding consistency also helps. 

“We have a significant shortage of the psychiatrists needed to service the country’s mental health needs,” Lakra says.

“This has only been further exacerbated by the surge in mental health demand during COVID-19, with wait times as long as nine months.

“Workforce shortages can be addressed with the enhancement of a multidisciplinary workforce underpinned by incentivised multidisciplinary collaboration.

“It is important that we continue to monitor the situation and continue to enhance and improve service provision to address the inequity within the system and provide services to those who need it, when and where they need it.”

The State of the Nation in Suicide Prevention report found 71 per cent of suicide prevention services do not believe services for priority populations are appropriately funded. Only 3 per cent did.

“It’s important that we continue to monitor the situation and continue to enhance and improve service provision to address the inequity within the system and provide services to those who need it, when and where they need it.”

RANZCP President, Associate Professor Vinay Lakra

Suicide arises from a complex interaction between many vulnerabilities, risk factors and triggers in a person’s life.

According to sector respondents, the greatest risk to suicide rates over the next 12 months are posed by social isolation (88 per cent) and unemployment and job security (74 per cent), followed by family and relationship breakdowns (69 per cent), cost of living and personal debt (57 per cent) and housing access and affordability (56 per cent).

Female public respondents were significantly more concerned about suicide risks in all of the top categories compared to men, including social isolation and loneliness (70 per cent vs 58 per cent), unemployment and job security (64 per cent vs 53 per cent), family and relationship breakdowns (62 per cent vs 52 per cent), cost of living and household debt (61 per cent vs 50 per cent), drugs and alcohol (56 per cent vs 50 per cent), and housing access and affordability (39 per cent vs 32 per cent).

Switchboard Victoria CEO Joe Ball says tragically, until we see a significant shift in funding priorities toward priority populations, we will not see a decrease in the heartbreakingly high rates of suicidal distress and attempts in our LGBTIQA+ communities.

From 2020 until this month, Switchboard’s specialised LGBTIQA+ helpline service, Rainbow Door has seen a 210 per cent increase in phone contacts and a 495 per cent increase in contact made via texts.

“It’s important to remember, you do not have to go this alone,” Murray says.

“Help is always available no matter who you are or what situation you are in.

“If you are feeling distress, please reach out and access the various support services that are available.”

  • 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.
  • Help to report about suicide safely is available online here.
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