MENTAL HEALTH WEEK — SUICIDE

HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [9.44 pm]: This week is a significant week in the calendar of the mental health sector. It is, of course, Mental Health Week. There are always a number of things that we can and, indeed, need to talk about around issues of mental health. I rise tonight because I want to once again speak up about the issue of suicide. Some very disturbing statistics were recently brought to the public’s attention about what is happening with suicide rates within Australia, with some particularly disturbing rates within Western Australia. From the outset I want to make clear that not everyone who chooses to take their life has a mental health issue. We know that, but we also know that a significant number of people who die by suicide do have a mental health issue, so the issue of suicide prevention and making sure that we are addressing issues of mental health in that regard are intrinsically interlinked.

The data that recently came out from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows a disturbing increase in the number of people who are dying by suicide in Australia. In 2017 in Australia, 3 128 people died from intentional self-harm, increasing from 9.1 per cent in 2016 with 2 866 people dying. Intentional self-harm was ranked the thirteenth leading cause of death in 2017, moving up from the fifteenth position in 2016. The median age of Australians dying by suicide is 44.5, compared with the leading cause of death, which is heart disease, which has a median age of 85 years. This is a really important consideration, because when the years of potential life lost are included in the analysis of the impact of this data, intentional self-harm results in more years of potential life lost than any other cause of death.

During 2017, 409 Western Australians died by suicide, compared with 300 in 2008. This equates to a standardised death rate of 13.8 deaths out of 100 000 in 2008 compared with 14.8 deaths out of 100 000 in 2017. Western Australia has the third highest rate of suicide in the country after the Northern Territory and now Queensland. By any measure, it is evident that the number of people dying by suicide is increasing across the country and also within our state. Within these statistics it is also clear that the trends are even more alarming for particular communities. For example, Aboriginal suicide rates have increased by an appalling 21 per cent over the last decade. Suicide is the second highest cause of death among Aboriginal men and the fifth highest cause of death amongst Aboriginal women, and suicide accounts for a third of all deaths in people aged between 15 and 24 years.

This type of quantitative data is really important. It allows us to track trends over time, it highlights the prevalence of suicide across the life span and it is an indicator of how well we, as a society, are addressing the causes that contribute to death by intentional self-harm—or not, as the case may be. But, of course, it is just one measure. What this data is telling us is how many lives have been lost to suicide, but behind these numbers are the experiences of many, many other people who are affected by suicide. For every one death, up to 30 more people have attempted suicide. For every single death, there are family, friends, work colleagues, children and so on who are all profoundly affected. The most disheartening part of reflecting on the terrible numbers that I speak of today is that despite the irrefutable evidence before us, unfortunately we are yet to take the necessary steps to turn this trend around. We know that around half of all visits to general practitioners involve mental illness, yet at the moment, our health system funnels approximately 90 per cent of its funding to physical health. I want to be clear that I am not suggesting that we need to spend less money on physical health; I think it highlights that we need to ensure we invest more money into mental health because, clearly, we are just not meeting the need.

There are numerous reports on this and much research has been done into it, so I do not need to revisit all that, but I know that now is the time that we need to start taking this seriously. As I recently mentioned on World Suicide Prevention Day, at the state level, we have an idea of some of the steps we need to undertake. We have a widely endorsed 10-year mental health and other drugs plan in place that outlines a plan for rebalancing the mental health system. It was encouraging to see that it was mentioned today in The West Australian.

It is the same at the federal level. Professor Allan Fels aptly summed this up when he launched an extensive review of mental health programs and services in 2014. He pointed out at the time that there is an extraordinarily high degree of consensus about the directions needed to create a system that promotes good mental health and wellbeing and a contributing life, but practical steps now need to be taken.

We need to also ensure that the process of evaluating the current suicide prevention strategy does not result in any interruption to the on-the-ground services that are working, and many of them are. It is really important to keep them going. As I have said before, any new strategy also needs to ensure that we are addressing areas of emerging need, such as the increasing rate of suicide amongst older Australians.

I am looking forward to the Government Mid-year Financial Projections Statement for evidence of what I hope will be an even greater commitment from the government to bolstering our efforts, particularly in community support and prevention, as the minister indicated during estimates this year. I also point out how I really hope that we will see some money put into suicide prevention in the forward estimates at some point. In answers to my questions in Parliament it was pointed out that we need to have in place the new strategy and that money will be available. But at the moment, not one dime is in the forward estimates to go into suicide prevention. Until such time as the money is there and, hopefully, is maintained at stable levels but also increases as necessary to reflect the fact that we are losing more and more people to suicide, I will not feel any sense of comfort.

We know that we have the road map, but the Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show that we will have to commit to greater investment in following the directions laid out because, quite simply, we cannot afford not to. I recognise this is a sombre issue to keep raising, but those in this place whose lives have been touched by suicide will understand the lifelong impact it has. We owe it to our constituents and to Western Australia to make sure we do far more in this space.

 

Portfolio Category: 
Parliamentary Type: