Opinion Research Suicide — 27 October 2017

As director of Australia’s largest suicide prevention trial, I approach late September each year with a rising sense of trepidation.

This is when we receive the latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, reporting on the number of lives lost to suicide each year.

There is no one type of person who is singled out by suicide. Photo: Andrew Quilty

There is no one type of person who is singled out by suicide. Photo: Andrew Quilty

Regardless of the changes year to year, these statistics are always gut-wrenching. Every single person included in our national suicide rate was a daughter or son, a brother or sister, a friend, a colleague and a member of our community.

On a personal level, the ABS report makes me recall dark periods in my youth in which I came close to suicide myself. Times when I reached such a low point that I genuinely believed it would be better for everyone if I were dead. What pulled me through was the tireless support of my mother, as well as a long process of recovery and finding something meaningful to do, and something to look forward to.

Every single person included in our national suicide rate was a daughter or son, a brother or sister, a friend, a colleague and a member of our community on a spiral downward. Photo: Tanya Lake

Every single person included in our national suicide rate was a daughter or son, a brother or sister, a friend, a colleague and a member of our community on a spiral downward. Photo: Tanya Lake

I have learnt that despite the seemingly unending darkness that someone considering suicide can experience, with the right help, things will change.This experience has profoundly shaped my work in leading evidence-driven and experience-informed suicide prevention efforts around the country.

I share this story to emphasise that there is no one type of person who is singled out by suicide, and the effects ripple out into every corner of our communities – but also that survival is possible. Yet we still don’t know the exact causes of suicide. There is never one single factor that can explain why suicide occurs and further research is urgently needed.
Historically, investment in mental health research has been the poor cousin in medical research. Other life-threatening illnesses like cancer receive up to 11 times more research money from private and corporate sector donations, and twice the level of government funding than mental health research. While recent investments in suicide prevention are encouraging, they must be sustained over the long term through avenues such as the Medical Research Future Fund if we hope to effect major breakthroughs in this space.
It’s great to see a drop in the official suicide rate from last year, but sadly if we look at the data from the past 10 years, the figures continue to trend up. Suicide is still the leading cause of death for Australians aged 15-44 years. 

Much of Australia’s suicide prevention efforts to date have been driven by gut-feeling,and not by what the scientific evidence suggests will work. These latest figures make clear that we cannot continue with a business-as-usual approach. Speculation and anecdotal evidence are taking us no closer to lowering suicide rates.  

The Black Dog Institute is working to remove the guesswork from suicide prevention.  We are conducting Australia’s largest scientific suicide prevention trial – LifeSpan – with the aim of lowering suicide deaths and attempts by coordinating new and existing interventions, services and support. It is now underway in two of four NSW trial sites – Newcastle and Illawarra-Shoalhaven – with Central Coast and Murrumbidgee the next sites to launch.

LifeSpan represents an unprecedented level of investment and activity in suicide prevention in Australia.

Right now, hundreds of people in our NSW trial sites are signing up for the 60-minute online training program Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR) – which is like CPR but for suicide prevention; doctors in general practices are gaining specialist training to identify the signs of mental distress and accelerate targeted support; and we’re making inroads towards increasing safety through means restriction. This is the first time such intense resources have been invested into discovering what the gaps in the system are, and how we can change them. By any measure, this is a game-changer. For those whose lives have been touched by suicide, this issue is about so much more than just numbers.

And for anyone reading this who might be in that dark place, please, reach out for help. Know that with the right support, it is possible that this time will pass, and life could end up being beyond your wildest dreams.

Rachel Green is director of LifeSpan at the Black Dog Institute.

Lifeline 131114

MensLine 1300789978

beyondblue 1300224636

This piece was first seen on ‘The Sydney Morning Herald’ September 27 2017.

 

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