By Fatima Halloum
Australia’s mental health sector is undergoing reform in a bid to lower the nation’s suicide rate and alleviate the stigma associated with mental health.
Programs related to suicide prevention will be a prime focus of the overhaul, which takes place over the next few years.
Kristen Douglas, an employee at Headspace, stressed the importance of the government working with the suicide sector to create a safer environment for people suffering from mental health problems.
“Suicide prevention will look a lot better in Australia, but it requires three things,” said Douglas. “The government and the suicide sector and mental health services have to work together better, reduce gaps and overlaps and increase investment and resourcing.”
Some of the programs will include better training for doctors and healthcare workers, improved school-based mental health packages and reduced access to methods of suicide, such as restrictive firearm laws and suicide fencing.
Mental health organisations also rely on the media to address suicide responsibly by asking them to leave out in-depth details of the methods used to carry out suicidal acts when reporting on intentional self harm.
“What we do want to talk about in the media is about data, prevention and mental health more broadly,” said Ms Douglas.
In 2014, 2,846 people died as a result of suicide, making it the 13th leading cause of all deaths in Australia, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics figures.
Mental health organisation Beyond Blue recently launched a mobile phone application that allows users to create a digital safety plan.
The App, Beyond Now, was launched in March and created in collaboration with students from Monash University and the Movember Foundation.
Although the app is designed to help individuals suffering from mental health issues, suicide survivor Anne* said there were better avenues to find help.
“If they want help, they aren’t going to find it through an app. They need to seek legitimate help,” said Anne. “Look up counselling, or a psychologist, or a community health worker.”
Suicide prevention advocate Jenny Szymanski said most people who are suicidal felt “a tragic lack of self worth” which could make it more difficult for individuals to ask for help.
Szymanski stressed how important it was for educators and professionals to allow people to speak up about their mental health problems. “Let people speak and share their stories. We can all learn from that.”
The government’s pre-existing gatekeeper program educates students, communities, organizations and professionals on what to do if someone they know may be suffering from problems related to mental health.
“In society we put a lot of pressure on people who are really really disconnected, really vulnerable and really in distress, and we’ve said to them, ‘just ask for help’. But we’re asking them to be really courageous at their worst time,” said Douglas.
“Not only do we have to say to Australians ‘become better health seekers’, on the flipside, we have to say to Australians become, ‘better help askers’.”
Not her real name
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental illness, seek help. Call Lifeline on 13 11 44 or chat to someone online at lifeline.org