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Labor’s suicide prevention policy – Opinion piece by Senator Katy Gallagher

Despite the fact that suicide is the leading cause of death for people aged 15-44, Australia lags behind many other countries in the implementation of evidence-based suicide prevention initiatives.

There are positive signs that this may change after the election with commitments from both the Coalition and Labor to run 12 regional suicide prevention trials to determine the most effective strategies in preventing suicide deaths.

More information on the background to Labor’s policy is provided in the following piece by Senator Katy Gallagher, Shadow Minister for Mental Health and Shadow Minister for Housing and Homelessness.  In it she argues for suicide prevention to be seen as a broad community issues and not just the responsibility of the health sector.

More details on the Coalition’s mental health policies can be found here and for the reaction of health groups and experts to both parties’ mental health policies see Croakey’s Mental Health Wrap – Part 1 and Part 2.


Senator Gallagher writes:

Earlier this month leading mental health experts ramped up the pressure on politicians to respond to the suicide emergency in this country. Leadership was called for along with real action to stop the tragic loss of life together with a commitment to evidenced based services and supports geared to intervening early and preventing people reaching the point of no return.

As part of Labor’s campaign launch Bill Shorten elevated suicide prevention onto the national political agenda when he outlined an $83 million suicide prevention package. He committed a future Labor Government to 12 regional suicide prevention pilots, improved data collection on suicide deaths and a significant investment into a suicide prevention research.

Confronting statistics

On every measure Australia’s suicide statistics are confronting. In 2014 more than 2,800 people took their own life in Australia. Approximately 65,000 people attempt suicide every year. Suicide is the leading cause of death for young people under the age of 44 and the years of life lost to suicide currently stands at more than 97,000 years annually. That’s right – 97,066 years of life lost in 2014 alone.

It’s clear that we can no longer take the business as usual approach and simply hope that the suicide toll will improve over time because the overwhelming evidence tells us that the status quo is failing and failing badly.

We are not just failing to protect those who lose their lives, we are failing those who attempt it and we are failing the families, friends and colleagues who are left traumatised and grief stricken by the loss of their loved ones.

A community and economic failure

Apart from the huge personal impacts these deaths leave at a national level, losing more than 2,800 of our citizens every year to a preventable death is a failure for our community and for our economy.

Any concerted attempt to tackle the national suicide emergency will require leadership from the highest levels of political, community and business life. It also demands a broader understanding of the factors that lead a person to believe that ending their life is the only solution and a determination not to punt suicide prevention off to the health departments in this country to “solve”.

Whilst suicide prevention will require some health expertise, continuing to respond to suicide as part of the mental health system ignores many of the causative factors that lead to suicidal thinking and will ensure that our current failure to deal with the rising toll of suicide will continue.

Many people who take their own lives don’t have a mental health illness nor have they had contact with mental health services. Social dislocation, isolation, job losses, family breakdown and poverty are known to influence people into thinking that there is no way out of the darkness when they find themselves there.

Not just a health issue

Viewing suicide prevention through a health only lens is a convenient and simplistic way of explaining what points to much deeper and complex problems facing our community and one which requires a whole of government and whole of community response. Better addressing these factors through building up community connectedness and resilience should be central to any new effort to address suicide deaths in this country.

At the political level if we are to be successful in reducing the rates of suicide in Australia, and I desperately hope we are, then suicide prevention needs be given the same whole of government response that has been provided to address the road toll, work-related deaths and population health outbreaks.

We also need coordination of resources and effort, timely and accurate data, targeted localised responses, increased research effort, increased community awareness along with a concerted effort to reduce the stigma attached to talking about suicide and suicidal feelings.

It’s time to make suicide prevention a national priority and make sure that the pathway out of the dark is there for everyone should they ever need it.

**For 24/7 crisis support and suicide prevention services call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit www.lifeline.org.au.  Other services include Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467, Beyondblue: 1300 22 4636 **

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