ELEANOR HALL: The National Children’s Commission is today promising to make suicide prevention one of its top priorities, as an Australian Bureau of Statistics report shows that suicide has overtaken car accidents as the leading cause of death for young Australians.
Rachael Brown spoke to the national children’s commissioner, Megan Mitchell.
MEGAN MITCHELL: The figures show that 57 young people under 14 took their lives by suicide. The real issue is that for the children who are aged between 15 and the young people who are 24, that is in fact now the leading cause of death.
RACHAEL BROWN: And how troubling are these figures? How do they compare with similar statistics a decade ago?
MEGAN MITCHELL: Well, in fact the rate of suicide has decreased slightly over time, but the figure now is pretty stubborn. It’s plateauing and not going down.
And while we’ve been managing to get on top of road transport accidents involving young people to some extent, we haven’t been able to make serious inroads into the rate of suicide.
RACHAEL BROWN: Will you be doing a formal inquiry, or if not, how will you be prioritising tackling this problem?
MEGAN MITCHELL: Well, I will be undertaking an investigation this year into the rates of suicide and self-harming by children. We’ll be calling for submissions, working with experts in the field and a process whereby people can tell their stories as well.
Yes, that’s true. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, they’re five more times represented in the suicide statistics. So I think it’s important to understand what particular pressures Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are facing.
And also young people who are gender-variant and sexually diverse, they also report very high rates of self-harming and suicide.
The issue with girls is it’s an increasing number who are actually taking their own lives by suicide.
RACHAEL BROWN: Have you looked into youths’ backgrounds? Are they from troubled homes? How does a child of 14 and under reach such a low point?
MEGAN MITCHELL: I don’t think we know enough about the circumstances of these young people and from anecdotal evidence and from the experts, I’m being told that it’s a variety of circumstance that these children live in. They’re not all from troubled homes. They may have troubled lives but some are also from quite functional and supportive families.
So we really need to get underneath what is driving children to the point of despair that they would take their own lives.
I’m also very concerned about the high rates of self-harming as
well. I mean, we’re looking at 15-24-year-olds, you know, over 7,500 children
were hospitalised between 2010 and 2011 for self-harming behaviour, and another
565 under 15 were hospitalised for that period.
So there’s also a story to be told in that space as well.
RACHAEL BROWN: Can a lot be attributed to this new era of social media bullying?
MEGAN MITCHELL: Look, I think it probably is making a contribution. It allows the bullying behaviour to intensify and escalate. And if we’re not on top of that as parents, as teachers and for children themselves, that can actually become overwhelming for a young person.
RACHAEL BROWN: What strategies would you suggest schools and parents adopt in these years that you’ve dubbed the “whatever years”?
MEGAN MITCHELL: Well, I think they are difficult years. I think it’s really important that people ensure that we’re continuing to talk to children all through that time and that they are aware that they won’t be judged, making sure that they understand they’re valued human beings and that they can raise issues that concern them.
And it’s about keeping on tapping into them, no matter how they’re travelling.
ELEANOR HALL: That’s
the national children’s commissioner, Megan Mitchell.
This article first appeared on ‘The World Today’ on 31 March 2014.