World Suicide Prevention Day: Australia and NZ show leadership

By Shannon Jenkins

Tuesday September 10, 2019

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Australian leaders have discussed suicide prevention in the wake of “alarming” new research, while the New Zealand government has announced a new Suicide Prevention Office.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Shadow Minister for Health Chris Bowen spoke at a World Suicide Prevention Day breakfast in Canberra. They reinforced the need for cross-party collaboration in order to address such a complex and entrenched societal issue.

Morrison said breaking the “curse of suicide on our country” would involve “coming together”.

“It does involve doing everything in our power that we can think of to help Australians who are at risk to come out of the shadow of suicide and to be able to see brighter and better days,” he said. “To have the care and support of family or friends of community of the person sitting next to you on the bus or the train or wherever it is, and to simply be able to extend that hand of support so people know that they are not alone.”

Bowen agreed.

“Every day needs to be the day in which we reflect on what more we can do … as a Parliament united in the effort,” he added. “United in the understanding that this is a mental health issue, it’s a mental health crisis but it’s so much more than that.

“This is a continuum of bipartisan efforts. It’s a good thing that the previous Labor government established a National Health Reform Commission. It’s a good thing that this government established the Productivity Commission Inquiry and appointed [National Suicide Prevention Advisor] Christine Morgan.”

He acknowledged that “our Indigenous brothers and sisters suffer the suicide rate twice that of non-Indigenous Australians and shockingly young Indigenous people are five times more likely to take their lives through suicide than non-Indigenous Australians”. 

The meeting came as a KPMG research paper commissioned by Suicide Prevention Australia revealed that Australia’s suicide rate would increase by 40% in the next decade unless daily pressures including loneliness and debt are addressed.

As noted by Guardian Australia, the paper also suggested the current suicide rate could actually be higher than thought.

Bowen said the “alarming projection” has shown there is an “urgent” need for “real” action on suicide prevention, again stressing the importance of unity.

“The Morrison Government will have full support from Labor on their commitment to suicide prevention including through the Productivity Commission’s inquiry and a new National Suicide Prevention Advisor,” he said in a statement.

Meanwhile, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Health Minister David Clark have released a suicide prevention strategy and announced the establishment of a Suicide Prevention Office.

The rate of suicide in NZ is a “long-term national tragedy”, according to Ardern.

“Change will take time but this plan and the actions the government has already in place are an important start,” she said.

“There are no easy answers or quick fixes, but the range of actions we are taking will mean better support people in distress.”

The focus areas of the plan include promoting wellbeing, responding to suicidal distress and behaviour, and supporting individuals, whānau [families] and communities who have been affected.

Ardern said current actions from her government include more prevention services with post-discharge support, tailored Māori and Pacific suicide prevention initiatives, and more funding for free counselling and hospital emergency departments.

Clark said the new agency would provide strong leadership in delivering the plan.

“It will take time to build new services and new facilities and expand and upskill our mental health workforce – but we’re getting on with the job,” he said.

The Suicide Prevention Office will be part of NZ’s Health portfolio, but will eventually become a stand-alone office. A Director of Suicide Prevention will be appointed to lead the agency, alongside a lived experience advisory group and Māori advisory group.

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