Sector News Suicide — 13 April 2016

Current suicide prevention strategies and inadequate resources are failing to solve the tragedy of children in WA taking their own lives, youth mental health advocates warned yesterday.

It is the leading cause of death for children aged five to 17, with Australian Bureau of Statistics data showing 61 WA kids took their own lives between 2010 and 2014.

Youth Focus WA chief executive Fiona Kalaf said children and young people were often unable to seek and receive professional help, which was crucial.

“We need to understand by the time somebody is contemplating suicide there’s probably been a number of social, cultural and medical issues that have contributed to this.

“Young people may be experiencing domestic violence or be victims of domestic violence.

“They may be trying alcohol and drugs to try to cope. It’s not just somebody might be having a bad day at school.”

Ms Kalaf said many children and young people simply did not know how or where to get help and professional help was not readily available in rural and remote areas.

“Parents and those who have responsibility for young people, teachers and sports coaches for example, should talk to services if they think someone is not coping and encourage them to seek professional help,” she said.

“What we know with confidence is that when people take the step to get good professional help, it makes all the difference.”

Ms Kalaf said Youth Focus had counselled 11,000 children and young people over the past 14 years and only one had taken their own life.

She said there needed to be a focus on building stronger and more resilient communities that were supportive of young people.

Ross Wortham, director of social policy at the Youth Affairs Council WA, said of particular concern were vulnerable groups including Aboriginals and those who were sexually or gender diverse.

“Suicide prevention is a major public health issue that needs to be addressed. Current solutions have not met the need obviously,” he said.

Mr Wortham said stressors for young people included the death of family member or friend and not having anyone to talk to about the trauma and grief, accessing employment, serious illness and mental health problems.

“It’s acknowledging the need for greater and targeted mental health services, more funding towards community-based and outreach, not just clinical-based services,” he said.

“Obviously it’s not working. We need to do more. We need to think differently. One thing we do see working well is early intervention. It’s important to acknowledge the benefit of that.”

WA’s overall suicide rate grew by more than 12 per cent between 2013 and 2014, with 374 people taking their own lives in 2014.

This article first appeared on ‘The West Australian’ on 13 April 2016.

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