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Next steps to reduce Australia’s suicide rate

06 December 2018

The National Mental Health Commission has today made a series of recommendations to the Minister for Health, the Hon. Greg Hunt MP, as a result of the National Suicide Prevention Summit held in Canberra earlier this week.

On Monday, experts and community leaders, including representatives of the Commonwealth, state and territory governments, came together to discuss  new approaches to tackling Australia’s rising suicide rate.

Minister Hunt asked the Commission to convene an urgent summit after the release of figures showing that 3128 people took their own lives in 2017, an increase of 9.1 per cent from 2016.

Minister Hunt addressed the summit, urging participants to work together to establish a clear set of actions that he could take forward.

The summit was also privileged to hear from Liane and Tony Drummond about their experience in caring for their son, David, who tragically took his own life in 2016.

During subsequent discussions, participants highlighted the need to integrate mental health and suicide prevention across all areas of government, not just health portfolios, in recognition of the complex interaction between clinical, social and emotional factors in suicide and suicidal behaviour.

The summit also discussed the critical need for a national approach to the collection of much more timely information on suicide and suicidal behaviour to enable resources to be focussed where they are needed most.

Greater community engagement and participation in both treatment and prevention was also highlighted, as was the need to implement measures aimed specifically at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

As a result of the summit, the National Mental Health Commission has today written to Minister Hunt recommending three key actions:

  • Make suicide prevention a whole-of-government issue and a COAG priority, including consideration of a suicide prevention taskforce, recognising that the social determinants of health are the policy focus of a range of portfolios, including for example, education, employment and housing.

  • Establish a national system for the collection, coordination and timely delivery of regional and demographic-specific information on the incidence of suicide and suicidal behaviour. Ideally, this system should have an additional focus on collecting data on psychological distress and wellbeing, to enable focused and timely preventive actions to be implemented.

  • Strengthen support for Primary Health Networks (PHNs) to enable them to respond effectively to this data and deliver tailored approaches, including non-clinical community alternatives and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-led interventions (guided by ATSISPEP.)

National Mental Health Commission chair, Lucy Brogden, said the summit provided much-needed clarity and a way forward, while also providing a powerful reminder of why this task is so important.

“It was extremely moving to hear Liane speak of their love for their son and all the family did to keep him alive. Sadly, their story is one of many,” she said.

“The actions of the meeting on Monday reflect  the social determinants of health and strengthening of clinical services through a whole-of-government response – so that when love is not enough, family is not enough – we are ready.

“Reducing the incidence of suicide in Australia is a profoundly important task and we stand ready to work with all governments, stakeholders and the community on this issue,” Lucy said.

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