News

Sharp increase in deaths from suicide sparks calls for nationwide prevention plan


Doug Hendrie


27/09/2018 3:59:23 PM

The Director of the Black Dog Institute says the rise in Australia’s suicide rate can be tackled with a nationwide evidence-based prevention plan.

Death from suicide in Australia jumped by 9.1% last year.
Death from suicide in Australia jumped by 9.1% last year.

Black Dog Institute Director and Scientia Professor Helen Christensen told newsGP that Australia could see a 20% reduction in death by suicide, comparable to the one experienced in Scotland as the result of a nationwide prevention scheme, if we take a similarly strong approach.
 
Her comments come following new Australian Bureau of Statistics data showing 3128 Australians took their own life last year, up by 262 deaths from 2016 – a 9.1% jump. 
 
The news led counselling service Lifeline to call for a target of reducing suicide by 25% over five years.
 
‘The increase is really upsetting, because we should be able to do better. We’re doing worse than other OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] countries,’ Professor Christensen said.
 
‘But [reductions] are possible. We need to have the model right and scale it up, otherwise we’ll be scratching the surface.’
 
The national death rate from suicide is now at 12.6 per 100,000, the equal highest rate in the last decade. The rate among men is more than three times greater than for women, at 19.1 deaths per 100,000 compared to 6.2.
 
Black Dog is running Australia’s first integrated large-scale evidence-based suicide prevention trial at four sites across NSW, using proven strategies from the world’s research literature.
 
The Lifespan trials are aimed at getting a 21% reduction in deaths from suicide, and a 30% reduction in attempts.
 
The trials use strategies such as ensuring rapid follow-up care after an attempt, equipping primary care professionals to help people in distress, improving media reporting of suicide, boosting mental health awareness in schools, and reducing access to the means of suicide.
 
‘The increase in suicide deaths is a trend that has been continuing over the last decade, and is an incentive to try even harder,' Professor Christensen said.
 
‘What we do has to be both evidence-based and at scale – reaching every community across the country, no matter how remote.
 
‘Suicide affects everyone, and suicide prevention is everybody’s business.’
 
Professor Christensen said suicide is a complex issue that requires a coordinated approach.  
 
‘Suicide is a bit of a black box. Though we have good psychological theories, it’s complex. It’s not just mental health, but opportunity, triggers and drugs and alcohol,’ she said.
 
‘This approach is like how we lowered the road toll. We trained drivers better, made sure that drivers … were not sleep deprived or drinking. And we changed the roads, put in better lights, better highways, and increased policing.
 
‘All of those things together reduced the toll over 20 years. It’s the same thing here.
 
‘We can take away the opportunity for people to be unsafe, we can make sure they’re not getting the wrong information from the media. There can be an increase in suicide simply as a result of a celebrity taking their life, with recent data showing a 10% spike after Robin Williams’ death.’
 
The Federal Government is also running a suicide prevention trial at 12 suicide hotspots across the country, with implementation support from the Black Dog Institute.
 
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt recently announced that the government had allocated $36 million to suicide prevention projects.
 
‘One life lost to suicide is one too many,’ he said.



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