Matthew Tukaki is also Chair of Australia's National Coalition for Suicide Prevention and a Non-Executive Director of Suicide Prevention Australia @tukakimatt
CEO of ConNetica and suicide prevention change agent John Mendoza
“The more things change, the more they remain the same.” Is one of those quotes that is framed on my office wall. It acts as a reminder to me that as far as I think we have come the longer the journey still has to unfold.
The problem with that is on some issues the journey is taking far too long. That is the case when it comes to suicide prevention and this week we were all reminded by the research conducted by John Mendoza that we face a major tipping point. Today, across many towns and cities in Australia the rate of suicide now outstrips the road toll. Between 2009 and 2012 in the electorate of Casey there were 184 suicide deaths recorded, in the electorate of Longman the number was 111 while in Brisbane it was 105, Lindsay 89, Bass 59 and Dawson 83. But, these are not just numbers and statistics these are our brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, children and parents, friends, neighbours and work colleagues.
When it comes to Indigenous suicide the rates per head of population are much higher. According to the ABS: For those of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent, there were 143 deaths due to suicide (102 male, 41 female) in 2014. The relative age standardised suicide rate was higher for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males than for non-Indigenous males (30.5 to 17.0 per 100,000 respectively). Similarly, the relative age standardised suicide rate was higher for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander females than for non-Indigenous females (12.1 to 5.8 per 100,000 respectively). Suicide is a prominent public health concern. Over a five year period from 2010 to 2014, the average number of suicide deaths per year was 2,577.
"What we see in these electorates is that every region is different and every region requires a regional response," Professor Ian Hickie AM, Co-Director of the Brain and Mind Centre, University of Sydney and National Mental Health Commissioner said.
"Over the past seven years, under both Labor and the Coalition, we have seen the development of new regional structures for health and hospital care.
"Eighteen months ago the National Mental Health Commission called for 12 large regional trials on suicide prevention as part of its aim to reduce suicide and suicide attempts by 50% over the next decade.
"We are yet to hear a clear response from the major parties to this recommendation from the Commission.
Ian is right. We have been down this path before where reports and committees are formed, recommendations made and outcomes suggested. Often our politicians line up to say they empathise with the issue and back a course of action. These politicians are often well intentioned but the problem is social issues fall victim to what I call the “cat light”, You place a cat in a dark room, shine the torch at the wall and the cat jumps to the spot where the light is. The problem is the light moves around and the cat jumps around. Essentially nothing gets done.
It has been more than five years since the recommendations of the landmark Senate Inquiry called “The Hidden Toll: Suicide in Australia” and yet the work of that bi-partisan committee has been left to sit on the shelf as could befall the fate of a more recent landmark report by the National Mental Health Commission. The recommendations that John Mendoza has put forward echo many of his previous ones as do those of Suicide Prevention Australia.
The difference today is we can ill afford to wait longer to implement these recommendations or ensure they have the funding needed to implement them. LifeLine’s Peter Shmigel is right when he talks about a national emergency but what is more disturbing is the challenge that while suicide has just about touched all Australians in one form or another when it comes to election time we tend to forget it and focus on other areas. In doing so we run the risk of forgetting that tens of thousands of our fellow Australians will lose the important voice that the living have the responsibility to use. If we don’t there is only silence.
So here we are again where the more things change the more they remain the same. But not this time, not now and not tomorrow. John Mendoza and Peter Shmigel are right. It is time for action and time for change; all politicians whether elected or wanting to be elected should ensure that the advice being given is followed through on because it is now this publications intention to each month ask the question “what have done (elected official) to help solve this problem.
If you - or a friend or family member - are struggling with mental health, there's always someone you can talk to. If you don't feel like talking on the phone, there's also online chat services available through the links:
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