ELEANOR HALL: Australia’s leading mental health and suicide prevention organisations are raising the alarm about suicide rates, saying they are failing to decline despite increased resources.
The organisations, including Beyond Blue and Lifeline, are meeting in Sydney today and are calling for a coordinated national strategy to halve Australia’s suicide rate within a decade.
Sarah Sedghi spoke to Sue Murray, the chief executive of Suicide Prevention Australia, who is convening the Sydney symposium.
SUE MURRAY: There are some 25 organisations who have recognised that over the last 20 years the numbers of people who are taking their own lives have not decreased significantly despite all the resourcing that has been put into suicide prevention and despite all of the good work that these organisations have been doing.
So the aim is that we will together set an agenda and that agenda is to halve suicide over the next 10 years. We will look at how we can share resources, we can identify the way that our organisations can deliver programs and activities in a way that will reinforce one another rather than potentially duplicate or perhaps not fill gaps in the way in which we need to deliver suicide prevention programs.
SUE MURRAY: Look, suicide is a very complex issue and one of the things that I think is limiting is that we tend to box it into the mental health arena. But in fact there are many other aspects that are more socially driven than health driven that impact on an individual’s decision to perhaps take their own life. Things like their employment or unemployment, things like financial constraints, breakdown of relationship.
So what we as a group or a national coalition for suicide prevention or wanting to do is to look at firstly how we can, what are the systems change approaches that we need to make, how can we better educate young people, how can we better educate families, how can we better educate workplaces so that they can recognise when a person is vulnerable and therefore direct them to appropriate support services.
We need to make sure that there are people trained in our emergency departments at hospitals who are often the first – and our emergency services, police and fire officers – who are often the first people that will come into contact with a person who is attempting to take their own life or in fact with a family or community where an individual has suicided.
SARAH SEDGHI: So what will the challenges be going forward, trying to implement a new strategy?
SUE MURRAY: I think firstly, Australia needs a strategy. The Federal Government has a framework but it hasn’t been translated into a national strategy. There are state-based strategies for suicide prevention but they’re not coordinated, we live in a federated system.
So it is the not-for-profit organisations who have come together under the National Coalition for Suicide Prevention who have recognised this and who are putting their hand up to say here are the things that need to be done in Australia to deliver a quality suicide prevention program. Then we need to work that through the state and through the community levels.
SARAH SEDGHI: So what’s been lacking in the strategy so far and what will this new approach mean?
SUE MURRAY: One of the most important things is the voice of the consumer in this approach, and we have, over the next two days we have representatives from across the country who have come together because they have lived experience of suicide in their own lives. And we’re exploring with them how we can harness the wisdom and the experience of people with lived – experience of suicide – how we can harness that to inform us about our policy development, our program development.
This is incredibly important. I’ve got the benefit of having come from the cancer world into this world of suicide prevention. I have seen the benefit the consumers can bring to the diagnosis, the treatments, the management of cancer in our communities. I’ve seen communities harnessed and galvanised behind the cause.
I think the time is right for us to do this for suicide prevention now.
ELEANOR HALL: That’s Sue Murray, the chief executive of Suicide Prevention Australia who’s convened that symposium, Lived Experience symposium, in Sydney. She was speaking to Sarah Sedghi.
Audio is available here.
This article first appeared on ‘ABC’ on 23 June 2014.