Research — 10 March 2016

A rising suicide rate has prompted mental health experts to call for greater focus on prevention and new measures they hope will dramatically reduce the number of deaths.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics yesterday confirmed the suicide rate had increased from 10.9 per 100,000 people in 2013 to 12 per 100,000 in 2014 — the highest rate in a decade. Almost eight people a day, 2160 males and 704 females over the year, killed themselves in 2014, with suicide the leading cause of avoidable death in Australia.

Helen Christensen, from the Black Dog Institute and the National Health and Medical Research Council Centre for Research Excellence in Suicide Prevention, said the data showed strategies were not as successful as they needed to be. “If we want to be really serious about saving lives, we need to understand why people become suicidal and identify how we can best tackle these issues before they reach crisis point,” she said.

The institute is rolling out the Saving Lives Project, which will trial nine suicide-prevention strategies in four at-risk NSW communities with funding from the Paul Ramsay Foundation.

The project tackles the problem simultaneously at a population and individual level with a co-ordinated response from non-profit bodies, primary healthcare providers, the education system, emergency services, community groups and other stakeholders. “We believe we will reduce the suicide rate by 20 per cent in the first few years, improve the lives of thousands of others who were considering suicide, and relieve the huge burden on families, friends and work colleagues,” Professor Christensen said. “We can no longer fail our most vulnerable by sitting by and do the same thing. Let’s start thinking about suicide prevention with our head, not our heart.”

SANE Australia chief executive Jack Heath said the rising rate was unacceptable, and the National Suicide Prevention Coalition believed a 50 per cent drop over 10 years was possible.

While the federal government will focus efforts at a local level through new primary-care bodies, Labor has adopted the 50 per cent reduction target and promised to establish 12 regional suicide-prevention strategies, if elected, in line with recommendations from the National Mental Health Commission.

If you or someone you know may be at risk of suicide call Lifeline (13 11 14), the Suicide Call Back Service (1300 659 467) or Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800).

This article first appeared on ‘The Australian’ on 9 March 2016.

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