Aust facing dramatic rise in suicide rate

Finbar O’Mallon and Angus Livingston
(Australian Associated Press)


Scott Morrison was at a mate’s wedding a few years ago when he posed for a photo with a beaming teenage boy.

The prime minister recently learned the boy had since died by suicide.

“You look at the photo, there’s no telltale signs, there’s nothing,” he said in Canberra on Tuesday, while launching a report on suicide in Australia.

“A beautiful young boy there with a beautiful family. He was 17.”

According to the new report, the rate of suicide is on track to increase dramatically – by 40 per cent in the next decade – unless Australia does more to prevent it.

The report, released on Suicide Prevention Day, predicts an extra 1300 suicide deaths a year will occur by 2030 if the worsening rates of the last decade continue.

Suicide Prevention Australia chief executive Nieves Murray said the findings were a major wakeup call to look beyond traditional health care responses.

“Australia has a world-class safety net of mental health and suicide prevention services ready and waiting to help,” Ms Murray said.

“The challenge for this decade is preventing the next wave of stressors – whether they be financial, personal or environmental – transforming into a threat to suicide rates in the first place.”

On average, six men and two women end their own lives in Australia every day, a total of 3128 suicides every year – the same level as 50 years ago.

Ms Murray said Australia needs to be better at proactively predicting the economic and social risks around the corner, to prevent suicide rates from increasing.

“The time to take action is now – Australia cannot afford another decade of increasing suicide rates,” she said.

The modelling in ‘Turning Points: Imagine a World Without Suicide’ report shows 3801 deaths by suicide in a single year by 2030 on the current trajectory.

If that continues to worsen, that figure will rise to 4430 suicide deaths a year by 2030.

“We are predicting that the federal government’s $15 million investment in improved and co-ordinated data collection and retrieval will reveal a higher official suicide rate than currently recorded,” the report says.

It also found the burden of mortgage debt is leading to mental distress and worsening mental health outcomes, while the gig economy and increasing use of contractors was further isolating lonely people.

“An immediate priority for the suicide prevention sector is to investigate and understand how to best support vulnerable people before reaching crisis point,” the report said.

Labor health spokesman Chris Bowen said his party would work with the government on suicide prevention.

“Every day needs to be suicide prevention day,” Mr Bowen said.

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