Politicians must do more for suicide prevention

9 September 2015

Don't ignore the facts - suicide is real and it hurts all of us.

A leading psychologist at The Australian National University (ANU) has called on Australian politicians to make sensible funding and policy decisions about suicide prevention.

Speaking ahead of World Suicide Prevention Day on Thursday, Director of the Research School of Psychology and President of the Australian Psychological Society Professor Mike Kyrios said it was important to get policy and funding decisions right.

"Suicide prevention research and programs need to be targeted. We need to think about what works for those at immediate risk of suicide, for groups that are at risk of suicide, and for whole communities," Professor Kyrios said.

"Preventing suicide and the horrendous impact it has on families and communities is an essential component of any world-class mental health system."

He also urged all Australians to speak up about mental health and suicide to help overcome the negative stigma that exists.

"Don't ignore the facts - suicide is real and it hurts all of us," he said.

"Supporting in silence and inaction maintains ignorance and stigma. Talk about mental health, mental illness and suicidal thoughts by asking others how they're feeling."

According to 2013 ABS data there have been around seven deaths by suicide in Australia each day since 2009. Middle-aged and older men and Indigenous Australians are at particular risk. More than one in four deaths amongst youth are attributable to suicide.

To help build awareness of the issue, the ANU Research School of Psychology is holding its inaugural Annual Lecture with Professor Patrick McGorry AO, world-renowned psychiatrist and the 2010 Australian of the Year, talking about early intervention and youth mental health reform.

Professor McGorry said Australia should take inspiration from Sweden's 'Vision Zero' approach to road deaths which has been operating since 1997 with great success.

"I have advocated for a zero suicide target," he said. "The latest debate I feel has been constrained by estimates of what some people regard as realistic and has not considered this type of ambitious goal."

"The Swedes have shown that a highly aspirational target is an effective strategy in itself when combined with investment, community mobilisation and effective strategies," he said. 

The Victorian Transport Accident Commission has now adopted this strategy in its latest round of public campaigning to reduce the road toll in Victoria. 

Professor McGorry, is the Executive Director of Orygen, the National Centre of Excellence of Youth Mental Health.

His lecture will take place on Thursday 10 September at 5.30pm at the Australian Centre on China in the World auditorium.