Suicide rates for young Australians double in a decade
This report on ABC News yesterday, ‘Suicide rates for young Australians highest in 10 years, researchers call for new prevention strategies’, reveals the distressing situation regarding the numbers of young people wanting to end their lives. In my talks in schools around the country, young people not infrequently approach me to acknowledge suicidal ideation and self harm. But if support services are stretched to the limit, where are they to go?
Suicide rates among young Australians are at their highest level in 10 years, despite a range of prevention strategies and investment from government, according to new research.
The report, carried out by youth mental health service Orygen, has found the system is not working and a new suicide prevention strategy for young people is needed.
Jo Robinson, head of Orygen’s suicide prevention research, said of the current system: “We’re clearly not getting things right.
“We really lack national leadership when it comes to youth suicide prevention.
“So despite a lot of investment, despite a lot of talk at government level … we really need a reinvigorated approach to youth suicide prevention.”
This is possibly the most chilling segment of the article. I had to stop and re-read, thinking I had read wrongly – ‘tens of thousands’ of young people being turned away?
Young people being turned away from help.
The report calls for a national suicide prevention strategy, supported by a specific youth suicide prevention strategy.
It also found more mental health services were needed for young people who were at high risk of suicide.
“We know that there are tens of thousands of young people who are turned away from services every year because services don’t have the capacity to respond to them,” Dr Robinson said.
“Unfortunately, very tragically, some of those young people will go on to take their own lives.”
I shared the article on my Facebook pages (public page here) I then received this very distressing message from a Melbourne mother which bring the findings home. I share it here with her permission.
Suicide services are so woeful that they can’t help you unless your child is actually physically in danger *now*. In 2015, after I pulled my 9 1/2 year old out of the sandpit (where he had planted himself headfirst in an effort to suffocate himself) I cleaned him up and we talked and when he was calm I called the child adolescent mental health service. They couldn’t advise me at all. He’s too young to access the service, and they couldn’t give me the most simple help like letting me know some safety measures I could take (in addition to what I had already taken care of, like locking the chemicals up and removing knives or checking blind/ curtain cords).
Apart from the situation we found ourselves in (horrifying enough) we got more help from the GP the next day, and due to timing (it was the last week of a school term) and service demands in the community it was 3 weeks till we could see a child psychologist. We did everything we could to make him feel and be safe, from supervising showers (unbenownst to us he had made 2 previous attempts by swallowing hair shampoo – it’s a good thing he was 9 because while the methods he chose weren’t successful, he was very determined) to changing doorknobs – took the lock off the bathroom and put it on the laundry, to doing without our cooking knives for 6 months until we were absolutely certain he was safe. I wouldn’t wish dealing with those services on anyone. The situation is bad. The services are a nightmare.
I asked how he was now. She replied:
He’s well now. Modest, caring, sensitive and curious. In some ways we were lucky to have the chance to help him learn that there are ways to help you feel better and think better, and he has the emotional vocabulary to voice his needs. I have shared the story with Bill Shorten a couple of weeks ago because we do need to do better in this area.
We are thankful this child is doing much better. But what of all the other young people for whom suicide is now a leading cause of death? This is a collective tragedy. Surely we can do better.
Why do some young people injure themselves?
Self-harm and non-suicidal self-injury are still surrounded by considerable stigma – if we are to begin to support young people who are engaging in this behaviour, it is vital that we understand the reasons for it. Dr Claire Kelly from Mental Health First Aid Australia addresses the myths and misperceptions around self-injury, highlighting the common reasons that drive young people to do so, challenging us to think of it as connection-seeking rather than attention-seeking, as well as evaluating their risk of suicide.
Lifeline Australia 131114
Kids Help Line 1800441800
Suicide Call Back Service 1300659467
Helpful resources at Beyond Blue