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Revealed: Australia's suicide epidemic - Shelved report keeps suicide prevention reforms at bay

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The Federal Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, said the Government was working with the Australian Suicide Prevention Advisory Council to develop ways to improve the data and respond to the needs of people at risk. "I'm concerned by these reports," Ms Roxon said.
What's missing are details of the sex, age, family relationship/status of victims and the effect of family breakups and family law.  Instead, victims are nebulously termed "people".

Revealed: Australia's suicide epidemic

The Sydney Morning Herald
21 August 2009

Revealed: Australia's suicide epidemic

Australia has dangerously miscalculated its suicide statistics - by as much as 30 per cent in NSW and Queensland - leaving a silent and growing epidemic of mounting deaths.

The figures are in stark contrast to years of backslapping by state and federal governments, congratulating themselves for reducing suicide rates from a peak of 2,700 in 1997.

The Herald can reveal the suicide toll is as high now as it was in the 1990s - if not higher - with experts predicting a further rise as the impact of rising unemployment and other economic factors bite.

Ten people each month take their lives either inside a state health facility or within a week of having contact with one.

Discharged too soon from emergency departments, left unobserved in psychiatric wards or denied admission to overcrowded inpatient facilities, their deaths reveal a pattern of repeated systemic failures that demands urgent reform.

The dangerous combination of government under-investment, shutting families out of hospital and police processes, a lack of training and a general community malaise about how to prevent suicide means so many are falling through the cracks.

In the 18 months to June 2008, at least 175 people died from suicide within seven days of contact with the health system, figures from the NSW Clinical Excellence Commission show.

A coroner's inquest into a man who shot himself within hours of being discharged from hospital concluded last week, with police and health departments questioned over their protocols for dealing with people at risk.

In another death, in which a woman set fire to herself after being denied help by a public hospital, the coroner noted: "This death was preventable and is probably the most tragic example of NSW Health's inability and/or failure to deal with individual cases in an appropriate manner."

John Mendoza, an adjunct associate professor at the University of Sydney faculty of medicine, said the real rate of suicide was about 2,500-2,700. "With this economic downturn we can expect that to increase by around 10 per cent, so we are looking at approximately 3,000 people each year," he said. "None of this takes into account suicides by way of single vehicle accidents - these are the only aspect of road accident deaths rising as a percentage of total deaths."

These figures indicate a major health problem and are much higher than the Bureau of Statistics count of 1,800 suicide deaths a year, said Professor Mendoza, who is chairman of the Federal Government's National Advisory Council on Mental Health.

"It is a hidden epidemic and yet the Federal Government only invests $1 per person per year on suicide prevention."

The director of health and vital statistics at the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Tara Pritchard, confirmed the bureau would release updated figures in March to correct the undercounting.

"What that revision of ABS data will show us is that really we have gone nowhere in terms of overall reductions from the peaks in suicide rates in the early 1990s, and we have certainly gone nowhere among reducing suicide in indigenous populations. They remain four times higher overall," Professor Mendoza said.

Governments had done little more than the bare minimum to prevent deaths, said Dawn O'Neil, chief executive officer of Lifeline.

"Once we got confirmation the rates were not coming down  the Government didn't want to know, politically they wanted to believe that the suicide rates were falling."

Lifeline: 131 114

Beyondblue: 1300 224 636


Shelved report keeps suicide prevention reforms at bay

The Sydney Morning Herald
22 August 2009

Shelved report keeps suicide prevention reforms at bay
By Ruth Pollard, Investigations editor

A Herald Investigation

An evaluation of Australia's main suicide prevention program - which found there was little evidence the strategy had reduced rates of suicide and self harm - has been kept secret for three years, stalling much needed national reforms.

The 2006 evaluation reveals the Howard government was urged to review the National Suicide Prevention Strategy to ensure that funds were better targeted to those in greatest need. "The current goals and objectives … are too broad to provide sufficient guidance," it concluded.

And while the national program floundered, suicide rates remained at historically high levels. The Herald revealed yesterday that the national suicide statistics had been undercounted, and the toll could be as high as 3,000 a year, rather than the 1,800 reported by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, without any corresponding increase in funding to prevent further deaths.

The Federal Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, said the Government was working with the Australian Suicide Prevention Advisory Council to develop ways to improve the data and respond to the needs of people at risk. "I'm concerned by these reports," Ms Roxon said.

To make progress, access to quality mental health services must be improved and structures developed to co-ordinate a new national response, said John Mendoza, the chairman of the Federal Government's National Advisory Council on Mental Health.

''We have seen our governments … implement an assertive response to swine flu [and] now we have had 121 deaths since the outbreak and … 460 people are … in hospital from H1N1.

"In the same period we have had at least 10 times the number of suicides and … 20,000 hospital admissions for self-harm. This is the scale of the problem, and it's time we addressed it."

Training GPs and other health care providers in recognising the warning signs for self harm and suicide, as well as reducing access to the means of suicide and investing in self-help services would go a long way to reducing risk, Professor Mendoza said.

The chairman of Suicide Prevention Australia, Michael Dudley, said: "We have absolute evidence that putting barriers around jumping points makes a huge difference - people do not automatically go and try something else, and it is the same with reducing access to firearms, medications and other methods.

"Maintaining a social connection can make a difference - we should be following people … after they have had contact with health services, because we know they are very much at risk."

Lifeline: 131 114

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