HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [10.05 pm]: As members know, I have a particular interest in suicide prevention. I am aware, of course, that the suicide prevention 2020 plan is currently under review and that the Ministerial Council for Suicide Prevention is considering which areas of the population need to receive particular attention in the next plan. It is in that vein that I rise to talk about a particular population group that to date has not necessarily received the level of attention that it potentially needs. As awareness has been raised, we are realising that we need to start looking at some quite targeted strategies in this area. I specifically refer to young people who live with disability.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of being asked to speak at a Youth Disability Advocacy Network event. A group of young people with disability came together to start talking about what was happening in their community around issues of suicide, to come up with solutions about the sorts of services that they think that they need and discuss the sorts of issues arising within their communities that are contributing towards an increased sense of suicidality. I think that is very, very important work and I look forward to hearing more about the special needs that they have identified that need to be addressed.

What we do know is that, by any measure, it is evident that the number of people who are dying by suicide is increasing across the country and within this state. To be clear, in 2017, we had an increase of 9.1 per cent from 2016 in the number of people taking their own lives. That statistic gives members an idea of the sorts of suicide rates we are talking about. When we talk about young people, in particular, suicide accounts for about one-third of all deaths in people aged 15 to 24 years. We know that many people will first present, particularly when they are experiencing mental illness, with their general practitioner. Unfortunately, our health system as a whole is funnelling about 90 per cent of its revenue into dealing with physical health matters, rather than mental health matters. By no means am I advocating that we put less money into physical health, but those percentages give us an idea of how skewed away from addressing urgent mental health issues the system is at the moment.

When we are talking about suicide in young people, there are a number of clearly identified risk factors, including previous suicide attempts; a history of substance abuse; a history of mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar or post-traumatic stress disorder; relationship problems, so conflict with parents or partners; legal or disciplinary problems; access to harmful means such as medication or weapons; the recent death of a family member or a close friend; ongoing exposure to bullying behaviour such as cyberbullying; and losing a friend or a family member to suicide. Of particular note is that physical illness or disability is a specific risk factor for young people. We know that the more challenges a young person has in life, the greater the risk of suicide.

I should also point out that psychosocial disability is another risk factor. Youth is a period of particular susceptibility to the onset of mental illness. For 75 per cent of people with mental ill health, it first emerges before they reach the age of 24 years. Given that an experience of mental ill health is a significant risk factor for suicide, it is really important to ensure that we have quality mental health care for young people very early in the process.

In 2009, 290 000 children aged between zero and 14 years reported a disability. Over half, that is 57 per cent, had a profound or severe disability, and almost one in five, that is 18 per cent, had a moderate or mild disability. We also know that people with disabilities are more likely to experience poverty and often live in quite poor quality, or insecure, housing. They have often received lower levels of education and are often quite socially isolated, with fewer opportunities to take part in community life. These are quite significant social determinants when it comes to issues of mental health and suicidality. Mental health problems and mental illness are among the greatest causes of disability as a whole, and it does of course contribute to a diminished quality of life as well as reduced productivity.

When I started looking specifically at the research around this, I was particularly interested in the significant differences in the causes of death of people who are on the autism spectrum compared with the rest of the general population. About 13 per cent of all deaths relate to accidents, injuries and poisonings, including death by suicide. Twenty-three per cent of those people fall into the autism spectrum category. That follows research that shows that about half the number of people on the autism spectrum also live with depression and anxiety.

Nearly 10 per cent of men with disability had experienced suicidal thoughts in the past year compared with four per cent of those not living with disability. After accounting for underlying mental health scores and other factors, in the past 12 months, men with disability had about one and a half times greater odds of suicide ideation— that is, thinking about suicide—than non-disabled men. When we start unpicking what is happening around these statistics, it shows that we need to start paying attention.

The existing suicide prevention plan has a whole section devoted to dealing with young people. It also has a whole section dealing with Aboriginal young people and LGBTIQ young people. This is really important. One thing that is really apparent is the need to ensure that we have some targeted approaches for how to work with the disability community to ensure that young people with disability are also a targeted group receiving specific supports and appropriate services. We need to ensure that our services are appropriately responsive to people with disability.

It is really fantastic that groups such as the Youth Disability Advocacy Network are making a point of proactively starting to pull together the data about what specifically young people need. I wanted to at least put it on people’s radar because it is really important that we are always mindful of those people within our population who may be at risk of suicide.


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