National target to reduce suicide in Australia underscores ‘shadow pandemic’

By Melissa Coade

March 29, 2022

mental health-suicide
Mental Health Australia wants a 25% reduction target for the national rate of deaths by suicide by 2025. (Maridav/Adobe)

Mental Health Australia (MHA) chair and survivor Matt Berriman has called for a national suicide-reduction target over the next three years to focus shared action toward zero suicide deaths.

MHA is Australia’s peak body for the mental health sector and wants a 25% reduction target for the national rate of deaths by suicide by 2025. 

In a statement on Monday, Berrmian said Australia’s mental health crisis – where every two and a half hours another person dies by suicide – was a shadow pandemic and must be fixed. 

“With experts predicting a worsening of our nation’s suicide rates as a society, we cannot remain idle.

“To support people early we need to build some genuine accountability into the broken system and eliminate the social and economic impacts that can contribute to distress,” he said. 

Berriman said the need for an ambitious national target was clear, with national statistics indicating 1,250 Australians will attempt suicide each week, with suicide the leading cause of death for those aged 15 and 44. He also suggested a target provided the focused unity to drive down the devastating number of deaths across government, business, the health sector and the community. 

“There are some outstanding people doing extraordinary things in the mental health and suicide-prevention sectors, but their work is missing a unified purpose and rallying cry,” Berriman said. 

“We need to acknowledge that a different and better way has to be found when it comes to suicide prevention and improved mental health outcomes, and a target creates a hyper-focus that will hold the elected government to account and help galvanise the country around preventing people dying,” he added. 

The national Suicide Prevention Australia platform has outlined a whole-of-government approach to the social determinants of health to deliver quality practice and community-wide capability in responding to the national crisis. 

MHA has developed four action items for government to complement the work of Suicide Prevention Australia: 1) include lived-experience leadership into the development and delivery of mental health services across all levels; 2) provide government leadership and accountability, with structures across jurisdictions to deliver an integrated end-to-end system and address the social determinants of mental health; 3) implement a co-designed community-focused mental health system, with a national community mental health dataset and needs-based psychosocial supports; and 4) address urgent mental health workforce gaps. 

MHA CEO Dr Leanne Beagley pointed to a National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Agreement the federal government released earlier this month, arguing it would not deliver the mental health reforms the sector and advocacy groups like hers have been calling for. The group is particularly disappointed the agreement missed an opportunity to embed lived experience expertise in plans to strengthen the sector.

“The lack of detail on deliverables during the course of the agreement, the absence of any implementation framework and no external oversight will translate into continued tick-the-box service enhancements rather than much-needed reform,” Beagley said. 

“[The agreement] reflects a lack of government commitment to consumer and carer leadership in the mental health sector.”

She added it was important the community approach to suicide was multi-pronged, reflecting the complicated human behaviour that led people to attempt to take their own life. 

“Preventing suicide is a very complex issue with no one single solution. But one Australian’s death to suicide is one too many. We need to work together as a community to bring about real change,” Beagley said. 

If you or someone you know needs help, talk to a GP or health professional, or contact any of the below services available 24/7: 

Lifeline: 13 11 14 or lifeline.org.au 

SANE Australia Helpline: 1800 18 SANE (7236) or sane.org 

Beyond Blue: 1300 22 46 36 or beyondblue.org.au/forums 

Black Dog Institute: blackdoginstitutecom.au 

Headspace: 1800 650 850 or headspace.org.au 

ReachOut: reachout.com 

Suicide Call Back Service: 1300659467


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