OPINION: Preventive action on suicide needed

LIGHT THE WAY: National Coalition for Suicide Prevention is committed to reducing suicide in Australia by half.  Picture: Leanne Pickett

LIGHT THE WAY: National Coalition for Suicide Prevention is committed to reducing suicide in Australia by half. Picture: Leanne Pickett

JANUARY is a month of such promise in many ways. We often set ourselves new goals or challenges for the year ahead, and there is nothing like starting a new year the way you intend to finish it – taking action.

The Hunter Institute of Mental Health will be shining a light on one of the issues that affects us all this week – suicide and the prevention of suicide. 

In many ways, 2014 brought a number of opportunities for us to do things differently and to do things better in suicide prevention. 

We saw the first ever World Health Organisation report on suicide prevention released in September 2014, calling on governments around the world to develop suicide prevention strategies and also to set and monitor targets for reductions in suicidal behaviour.  

In Australia, the National Coalition for Suicide Prevention, which includes over 30 organisations nationwide, committed itself to working together to reduce suicides by half in this country. 

In NSW we saw the release of a new State Plan for Mental Health providing an opportunity to review the way services, communities and individuals work together.

At the same time, there is still much uncertainty. 

While the National Mental Health Commission completed a review of mental health and suicide prevention in 2014, the recommendations put to government and a response from the government are still unknown. This leaves many organisations working in suicide prevention with an uncertain future. 

But uncertainty should not be an excuse for inaction. 

While there is still much to learn in suicide prevention, there is a lot we already know and a lot we need to do.

We need to invest in more research, but we also need to translate what we know now into action at a local and national level. We need a broader view of suicide prevention that considers a public health approach, so we can tackle the issue at a population level as well as an individual level. We urgently need a workforce development plan in suicide prevention that identifies who the workforces with a role in suicide prevention are, and what training and support they need immediately and into the future.

We need to connect people with lived experience of suicide with our policy makers, researchers and service providers to review and improve our current approaches. 

We need to resource and up-skill communities to build their capacity to have a role in suicide prevention.

As a sector and as a community, we need to connect people who need support with the right services at the right time.

We need to focus on protective factors and connecting people with each other so they may never need those services in the first place. 

And those of us working in suicide prevention need to commit to working together.

We often say that ‘‘suicide prevention is everybody’s business’’. 

Indeed, it is an issue that affects health services, emergency services, businesses, schools, community organisations, families and individuals. 

But if suicide prevention is everybody’s business, what are we doing to up-skill and support  ‘‘everybody’’ for this role?

To kick start a 2015 that prioritises action in suicide prevention, the Hunter Institute of Mental Health has partnered with the University of Melbourne to bring one of our international suicide prevention colleagues, Dr Morton Silverman, to Australia for a number of events and discussions. 

Dr Silverman has contributed to suicide prevention policy and planning in the United States as well as internationally through roles with the International Association for Suicide Prevention and the World Health Organisation. This week, Dr Silverman will be in Newcastle to deliver the only publicly available events on his calendar.

On Thursday afternoon he will deliver a seminar on public health approaches to suicide prevention and on Thursday evening he will join National Mental Health Commissioner Lucy Brogden, NSW Mental Health Commissioner John Feneley and myself at a forum at Newcastle City Hall from 6pm.  

To make a difference in suicide prevention we need everyone involved – governments, health services, community services, communities and individuals.  

Doing what we have always done is not an approach any of us should support. Gone is the era of shining a light on the problem – now we have to shine a light on the solutions.  

I commit myself and my organisation to the task of reducing suicide and suicidal behaviour at a local and national level. Who is with me?

Jaelea Skehan is the director of the Hunter Institute of Mental Health

For more information about the suicide prevention forum or to register – visit himh.org.au/spforum.

For immediate support contact Lifeline 131114 or lifeline.org.au

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