Suicide prevention is high

PRIORITY: Helping youth.
PRIORITY: Helping youth.

Mental Health Month 2017 coincides with the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016 Causes of Death data findings showing suicide figures have decreased.

In 2016, 2866 people died from intentional self-harm, compared to 3027 people in 2015.

Black Dog Institute lead suicide prevention researcher Dr Fiona Shand said the decrease was pleasing to see.

The institute was founded in 2002 and is internationally recognised as a pioneer in the identification, prevention and treatment of mental illness, and the promotion of wellbeing.

But while the decrease was welcome, the ABS report found in 2016 suicide was the leading cause of death of children aged from five to 17.

“Suicide prevention for young people needs to be, and is, a high priority,” Dr Shand said.

“There are high school-based programs which have proven to reduce suicidal thinking and behaviours, and we are currently trialling two of those programs in Australia.

“Improving access to online and face to face psychological treatment for young people in distress should also be a priority, as there are effective treatments available.”

Dr Shand said in terms of absolute numbers and the rate, men aged 30-44 are at even higher risk.

“For both groups, there are effective interventions and treatments available, and we would encourage anyone who is feeling distressed to speak with their GP,” she said.

Dr Shand said a look at the last 10 years of suicide data, shows the overall trend is an increase. The standardised suicide rate in 2016 was 11.7 deaths per 100,000 persons.

“This is the third highest rate recorded in the past 10 years,” Dr Shand said.

“This compares to 10.6 suicide deaths per 100,000 people in 2007.

“Importantly, there are effective strategies for reducing suicide, and many regions of NSW are involved in trialling these approaches, so there is good reason to be optimistic.”

Dr Shand said while it was hard to say what might have caused the decrease, it was likely to be partly a normal variation in the trend.

“As well this is an example of why we need sustained investment in data improvement. Data has improved over time but sometimes the pace of change is glacial compared to the gravity of the problem,” she said.

“It's 2017 and so much more is possible with data analysis, prediction, comparison with service availability, use of evidence, and evaluation of prevention efforts but we must invest in data at the source (hospital, police, ambulance and more) to generate really meaningful links between what we are doing for prevention in local regions, and what impact that is having.”