Canberra continues to be “rocked by suicide” despite an increase in positive conversations around mental health, the chief executive of ACT Lifeline says. Carrie Leeson, who began her involvement with Lifeline as a telephone volunteer, said the number of Canberrans seeking help increased 10 per cent in 2014, although volunteers were still unable to answer every call. “We lose a Canberran to suicide almost every week,” she said. “This is a devastating number. It represents an enormous loss to families, schools, workplaces and communities, and it is preventable.” However, it’s not just the ACT community that is struggling with an increasing number of calls for help.
Lifeline Australia chief executive Jane Hayden said the organisation received more than 930,000 calls in 2014, a 25 per cent increase on figures reported two years ago. “Our telephone crisis supporters answered just over 795,000 calls from Australian help seekers in 2014, with 70,600 calls from help seekers answered in December alone,” she said. “In one way, it’s encouraging that more help seekers know that we’re just a phone call away if people are feeling alone, hopeless or just struggling to cope.”On the other hand, it also reflects the persistently high numbers of people having thoughts about suicide.” Ms Hayden said Lifeline undertook almost 600 suicide safety checks each day in 2014 and expected volunteers to respond to almost 1 million calls in 2015. Despite having one of the nation’s highest-performing telephone counselling services, Ms Leeson said the Canberra branch was determined to improve its services.
In 2013-14, the 300 telephone volunteers in the ACT answered 30,457 calls, which was a 17 per cent increase on the previous year that equated to an average of 85 calls per day. “Our goals for 2015 are to continue to reach more callers, to continue to reach more through our training, and to continue to be . . . leaders in preventive measures,” Ms Leeson said. “We will continue to grow our community presence, continue to fight to save the next life.” An Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report released in December shows suicide accounted for 2282 injury deaths in Australia in 2010-11. There were 3.3 times as many male as female suicide deaths during this period,” the report said. “Markedly higher rates of suicide were recorded for males than for females in all age groups except for children aged 10 to 14. Male rates were highest for those aged 35 to 44 years and for males aged 80 years and over.”
Ms Hayden said the AIHW report delivered “very sad numbers in the battle against suicide” and proved suicide remained a major issue for the country. “Behind each suicide statistic are real people facing loss and distress,” she said. “Lifeline believes that most suicides can be prevented and supports a whole of community approach.” Ms Leeson said her organisation continued to be dependent on volunteers who gave up their time to support those in need. “Unfortunately, we are restricted only by funding; the investment in training is significant,” she said. “Our investment in the training, accreditation, supervision and support of our volunteers is in the millions of dollars, for which we receive 8 per cent in funding.” Lifeline 13 11 14
This article first appeared Canberra Times, 5 February 2015.