WORLD SUICIDE PREVENTION DAY

HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [9.48 pm]: Yesterday was World Suicide Prevention Day, so I wanted to rise to mark that event and to speak about how we are going in relation to suicide prevention at the moment in Western Australia. The theme of the 2018 World Suicide Prevention Day, “Working together to prevent suicide”, was chosen because it highlights one of the most essential ingredients for effective global suicide prevention—that is, collaboration. We need an ongoing reminder that we all have a role to play and that we all need to do our part in order to effect change. This is about helping people when they are in need, by ensuring that we refer them to the right services in a timely way and making sure that our community-managed mental health services and public services are pulling together to provide optimal support. Those are key to saving and improving lives.

The impact of suicide is profound and lifelong for the people left behind. The research tells us that hundreds of people are impacted by each death by suicide. In terms of how we are faring in Western Australia at the moment, most members will be familiar with some of the statistics. While speaking about World Suicide Prevention Day, I think it is worth reminding ourselves of how we are currently going in Western Australia. I think the numbers speak volumes about why it is important to have a continued focus on suicide prevention, and why we should be treating it as a matter of urgency. In Western Australia in 2015, 394 people died by suicide, and if we then also consider the number of people who attempted suicide we are talking about 20 to 30 times that number. That is anywhere up to 11 000 people in any given year. The youth suicide rate is the highest it has ever been. The last annual report of the WA Ombudsman showed that 42 per cent of the sudden deaths of 13 to 17-year-olds between 2009 and 2017 were as a result of a suicide. The figures are, frankly, trending the wrong way. In the 2016–17 financial year, 19 teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17 died by suicide, compared with nine suicide deaths in 2009. In July 2016, a report released by the Kimberley Mental Health and Drug Service found that between 2005 and 2014 the suicide rate for Aboriginal people in the Kimberley was 74 per 100 000 people, as compared with the suicide rate of all Australians of 12.2 per 100 000 people in 2014. I will say that again: 74, as opposed to 12.2. That is an extraordinary number of people. We also know that almost one in two transgender young people in WA have attempted suicide, and we are seeing an increasing trend in the rate of suicide amongst older Australians.

I acknowledge the government’s stated commitment to suicide prevention, but I was concerned—I raised it at the time during the estimates hearings—to see that in the budget there were no provisions in the forward estimates for ongoing funding once the current suicide prevention strategy comes to an end. I understand the need to evaluate the strategy—that is good and proper—but I think it is problematic to not have funds at least allocated specifically to suicide prevention beyond 2019, even if we do not know exactly how those funds will be utilised until the strategy is in place. I think that creates enormous uncertainty for people who work in the suicide prevention sector, and I am not sure it is particularly helpful as a message.

It is really crucial that the services that are working well—there are a number—are able to continue without disruption. It is essential that we avoid eroding the work undertaken so far. I really am looking to seeing the next iteration of the state suicide prevention strategy. I hope it will address emerging trends such as the increasing rate of suicide amongst older people, and I really hope it will build on some of the newer services that were established in the current suicide prevention strategy, such as the pilot program for children bereaved by suicide. That not only needs to continue, but also be made available in the regions. At the moment it is not, and that is a real deficit in a desperately needed service.

Many other services fall out of the funding remit of the suicide prevention strategy, but they are still really essential when we look at the continuum of services needed to prevent suicide. Of great concern is that the sector seems to have to advocate to even maintain existing levels of community support, despite the desperate need for additional prevention and community support services being so clearly articulated in the 10-year plan. The increasing rate of suicide shows that to clearly be the case. I have spoken recently in this place about the uncertain funding situation for men’s sheds in Western Australia. We know that men’s sheds have a successful track record in reducing social isolation, particularly among older men. I have also raised on several occasions the issue of funding for Living Proud. I spoke to members of the board about that again only this weekend. This much-needed agency is struggling to remain open and meet the level of demand and has to rely on project-based funding. Kids Helpline is also unable to keep pace with demand. It is particularly concerning that 56 per cent of the calls made to Kids Helpline in 2017 did not get through. Kids Helpline is appropriately being widely advertised and has an established reputation as a first point of contact for children and young people who need urgent advice or counselling. I acknowledge that this is a federally-funded service, so the federal government needs to lift its game. However, it helps paint a picture about the state of service provision in Western Australia. We should do everything we can to build the capacity of these much-needed services. We certainly should not do anything that will weaken them.

Members, the aim of World Suicide Prevention Day is to increase awareness about the problem of suicide and the many ways in which we can work to reduce suicide rates and the incidence of suicidal behaviours. I am pleased to be able to use the opportunity that marking World Suicide Prevention Day brings to again highlight the critical need for greater investment in preventing suicide in Western Australia. I am one person who has been intimately affected by the impacts of suicide, and I know that the impact is lifelong and never leaves you.

 

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