LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: The Prime Minister says he’ll leave no stone unturned, trying to improve the mental health of Australians.
Every MP and senator is being asked to sign a pledge to do all they can in the next Parliament to stop Australia’s rising rate of suicide.
It’s now more than double the annual road toll.
A group of mental health experts and families of those who’ve taken their own lives launched a campaign today in Canberra to highlight the inadequacies of a system they say is failing to address a national emergency.
Here’s political correspondent Sabra Lane:
(Footage of Malcolm Turnbull holding press conference at scenic outlook, Great Ocean Road)
MALCOLM TURNBULL, PRIME MINISTER: OK. Well, what a beautiful morning.
SABRA LANE, REPORTER: The federal seat of Corangamite is home to the Great Ocean Road, one of the world’s most scenic coastal drives.
The electorate also harbours a dark secret.
MALCOLM TURNBULL: There is no doubt that mental health or mental illness has an enormous cost on our community.
SABRA LANE: According to a new analysis released today, the federal marginal electorate has one of the highest suicide rates in the country.
MALCOLM TURNBULL: It’s a huge challenge. But I can assure you: my Government is keenly aware of the issue of suicide and the issue of mental health overall.
Look, this is a very heartfelt issue, I can assure you. It’s a tough issue. We will leave no stone unturned in our efforts to improve, protect and advance the mental health of Australia; the mental wealth of Australia.
SABRA LANE: For the Prime Minister, it is personal.
MALCOLM TURNBULL: You may not be aware, but my electorate of Wentworth includes The Gap at Watson’s Bay, which is the place in Australia, regrettably, where more people take their lives than anywhere else.
SABRA LANE: Today, a passionate plea as mental health experts converged on Parliament House to warn that millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money have been spent on prevention policies that aren’t working.
IAN HICKIE, PROF., NATIONAL MENTAL HEALTH COMMISSIONER: Medicare’s been a great system, but the simplistic fee for service does not work in this area.
SABRA LANE : Among the group, family members who’ve lost loved ones to suicide; some who’ve even saved children who’ve tried to end their lives.
KERRIE KEEPA, SUICIDE PREVENTION CAMPAIGNER: I hear often that suicide has this ripple effect; that it just goes, you know: this little ripple for the rest of your life.
Again, it’s a fallacy. It’s not a ripple: it’s a tsunami.
SABRA LANE : 7.30 met Kerrie Keepa last year, as she was grieving for her son Chris.
CHRIS BALL (smart phone video, 2014): No-one blame themselves ’cause, like they say, depression is a disease.
SABRA LANE : Twenty-one-year-old Chris Ball recorded this video for his family, shortly before he took his life in 2014.
CHRIS BALL (smart phone video, 2014): I love youse all. There’s nothing youse could have done.
SABRA LANE: Kerrie Keepa’s adding her voice to the campaign to get every MP in the next 45th Parliament to pledge to make a difference to stop the suicide rate from rising. Some signed up today.
KERRIE KEEPA: Because the thought of any other family going through what my family has been through and what my family continues to go through – and I daresay will forever – and not doing anything about it: I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night.
I have to… This is what I have to do. And as probably crazy as it seems, Chris is right beside me, going: “You’ve got this, Mum. Go. Do it.”
IAN HICKIE: Everywhere the Prime Minister goes now – and the Opposition Leader – they’ll be asked about this issue.
(Footage of Labor town hall forum, 20 May)
AUDIENCE MEMBER: That is a massive problem for the youth: it’s mental illness.
SABRA LANE (voiceover): Bill Shorten was asked about it at a recent town hall forum. He says it is a priority for Labor; and asked the audience for a show of hands if they’d known someone who’d tried to take their own lives.
(A significant majority of audience members have their hand up.)
BILL SHORTEN, OPPOSITION LEADER (20 May): Shit. That’s amazing. I just got goose bumps then.
SABRA LANE: The numbers are staggering: between eight and 10 Australians die every day at their own hand. It’s estimated another 180 try. Nearly half of them end up in hospital.
In the 10 years to 2014, there was a 22 per cent increase in the suicide rate – and that’s despite more money being spent on preventative measures.
Data released today examines 28 federal seats around the nation, showing the suicide rate compared with the road toll.
In Corangamite, Canning and Longman, the number who end their lives easily eclipses those lost on the road.
CAPTIONS: Corangamite: 111 suicide vs. 65 road toll. Canning: 90 vs. 54. Longman: 162 vs. 68.
SABRA LANE: In each electorate, the report highlights that thousands of people are in a state of high or very high psychological distress.
It’s the first time data’s been broken down to show the impact of suicide in individual electorates. Those in highest stress often are experiencing the end of the mining boom or manufacturing downturn.
IAN HICKIE: We’ve seen this in North America and in Europe, where they failed to respond to actually what was happening in mining, manufacturing, other areas.
We’ve seen suicide rates go up, particularly in men who’ve had limited high school education, who work in the trades, then lose their job or they lose their wife. They’re under financial pressure. Suicide rates go through the roof.
SABRA LANE: Professor Hickie sits on the national mental health commission, which reviewed suicide prevention policies for the Abbott government. It recommended the collection of real-time data. It also recommended 12 pilot programs be set up around the nation, similar to the NDIS roll-out, to test new methods of early intervention, including the use of smart technology to connect those at risk with specialists.
The Government’s taken a different approach, using primary health care networks. It will announce the lead locations soon.
The Opposition’s committed to the trials, but is yet to unveil its policy.
IAN HICKIE: There’s a genuine agreement in Australia that we should be reducing suicide by 50 per cent over the next 10 years. The only way to get there is to focus on those regions with high rates and see significant reductions in those regions.
So, community by community, that can be achieved, but it requires investment; but it requires infrastructure. It requires monitoring. It requires real-time responses.
And most of all: it requires leadership.
KERRIE KEEPA: This can happen to anybody. It doesn’t matter how much money you have. It doesn’t matter your status in life. It doesn’t matter what you do or don’t have. Mental illness does not discriminate.
LEIGH SALES: Sabra Lane with that report.
This article first appeared on ‘ABC’ on 25 May 2016.