Sharp suicide increase expected due to pandemic

Morgan Liotta

7/05/2020 2:26:48 PM

This has led to calls for urgent government attention amid fears it could spawn a ‘generational mental health crisis’.

Young man with his head in hands
Leading experts say we ‘must act quickly’ to protect youth mental health.

New modelling from the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre (the centre) suggests the COVID-19 pandemic will contribute to a major surge – 25% – of suicides, with an increase of up to 30% among young people aged 15­–25.
The centre’s research warns the pandemic could result in up to an additional 1500 suicide-related deaths every year over the next five years, resulting in a ‘generational mental health crisis’.
The Kids Helpline has experienced an overwhelming 40% more calls than the same time last year, and Beyond Blue has seen a significant leap in calls since before the pandemic.
The country’s leading mental health experts are again calling for a national suicide register to provide timely data – key to reducing suicide rates, according to the centre.
The national suicide register would aim to link with real-time information from first responders, speeding up access to suicide data that can currently take up to two years.
Australian Medical Association (AMA) President Dr Tony Bartone has released a joint statement with youth mental health group Orygen Executive Director Professor Patrick McGorry, and former Mental Health Commissioner and Co-Director at the Brain and Mind Centre, Professor Ian Hickie.
Additionally, the centre has launched YOUTHe, a five-year youth suicide prevention project funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council.
Professor Hickie says the potential crisis eventuating from COVID-19 ‘can and must be’ squashed before it appears.
‘As restrictions on physical distancing and isolation are eased, Australia’s mental health system, already … seriously under-resourced, must urgently be equipped with the capacity to respond to the expected influx in demand for services,’ he said.
‘We are facing a situation where between an extra 750 and 1500 more suicides may occur annually. This in addition to the 3000-plus lives that are lost to suicide already every year.’
Professor Hickie predicts that young people will be most affected by rising unemployment rates, particularly those who live in rural and regional areas.
‘Those areas hardest hit by job losses will not recover quickly,’ he said.
The AMA, Orygen and the centre are calling for dynamic and long-term modelling and investment in mental health to help Australians transition as smoothly as possible on the other side of the pandemic.
The model is expected to cover mental health impacts during all stages of the pandemic ­– current lockdown measures, when restrictions are eased, and in the long term.
According to the centre, proactive investments in mental health services will play a ‘vital role in supplementing efforts at increasing community connectedness and the social and economic initiatives already being implemented’.
In the joint statement, Dr Bartone emphasised the urgent need to prioritise mental health and suicide prevention as Australia slowly begins to transition out of lockdown.
‘We know that young people are going to be disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures that are needed to stop the spread of this deadly disease,’ he said. ‘If the Australian economy deteriorates further, this … may increase.
‘We must act quickly to increase key capabilities before the surge in demand for mental health services becomes evident.’
The Federal Government announced a funding package incorporating a mental health stimulus in March, and the Mental Health Commission is expected to announce a suite of additional mental health care funding this week. A national suicide register is due for release in 2022.
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