CW/TW: This article mentions suicide and mental health conditions.
Today, 10 September, is Suicide Prevention Day and a new report has found that record numbers of Australians are using suicide prevention services.
While it’s never a great thing to hear that these services are in high demand in Australia, it is encouraging that people are using them. That fact has been described by Suicide Prevention Australia as a “silver lining” that shows the sector is making a huge impact in keeping the community safe.
Suicide Prevention Australia CEO Nieves Murray said that 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 said.
Suicide Prevention Australia has released its second annual State of the Nation in Suicide Prevention report, which shows that 84% of suicide prevention services and workers experienced an increase in demand in the past 12 months. This is a 6 percentage point increase from the previous year.
The report also shows that 85% of workers in the suicide prevention sector support government decisions that consider and mitigate suicide impacts and have called for a national Suicide Prevention Act. Over two-thirds of Australia’s support the same, according to another study.
“The sector is united in urging a whole-of-government approach to suicide prevention,” Murray said.
29% of Australians have discussed suicide concerns about themselves or someone else in the past 12 months.
This includes 40% of young people between the ages of 18 and 34 who report having conversations about suicide and seeking help (41%) at twice the rate of their parent’s generations (20% and 19% respectively).
Suicide prevention groups across Australia are noticing the upwards trend in people seeing help and are rising to meet the demands.
MATES, a programme working to prevent suicide in the constriction, energy, and mining industry report a 40% increase in calls over the past 12 months.
Chief Executive Officer of MATES, Chris Lockwood, said, “People are reaching out.
“We are working hard on the ground to reduce the high level of suicide among Australian construction workers. Not everyone is comfortable seeking help through a formal or clinical setting and MATES offers another option for people in distress,” he added.
LivingWorks Australia, which trains people in suicide prevention strategies and skills, have also reported an “unprecedented demand” for their services.
CEO Shayne Connell said that the organisation has seen demand grow in community areas, 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 said.
Murray said the increase in service demand showed Australians were hearing the message and seeking help. However, she added that it was important the “herculean” efforts of many suicide prevention services during the pandemic did not overshadow the fact that they were 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.
“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 said.
Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) President, Associate Professor Vinay Lakra, said that addressing workforce shortages and funding consistency would also help.
“We have a significant shortage of the psychiatrists needed to service the country’s mental health needs. 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,” he said.
The State of the Nation in Suicide Prevention report found 71% of suicide prevention services do not believe services for priority populations are appropriately funded. Only 3% did.
Switchboard Victoria CEO Joe Ball said, “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 – 2021 to date, Switchboard’s specialised LGBTIQA+ helpline service, Rainbow Door has seen a 210% increase in phone contacts and a 495% increase in contact made via texts.
“It’s important to remember, you do not have to go this alone. 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,” Murray said.
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.