Aussies back a national Suicide Prevention Act
6 September 2021 at 4:26 pm
“We’ve seen how quickly COVID-19 cases can get out of hand and we need to have the same national policy focus and vigilance to stop suicide rates doing the same”
As the mental health impacts of the COVID pandemic continue to fester, two-thirds of Australians say a national Suicide Prevention Act is needed to make preventing suicide a whole-of-government priority.
Suicide Prevention Australia (SPA) recently surveyed more than 1,000 people for its annual State of the Nation report, which will be officially unveiled on World Suicide Prevention Day (10 September).
The charity found that more than one in four (27 per cent) Australians have sought help or searched for advice from a suicide prevention service over the past 12 months.
The survey also revealed that 25 per cent of Australians know someone – either directly or indirectly – who has died by or attempted suicide over the past year.
When asked if Australia should implement a standalone Suicide Prevention Act that takes a whole-of-government – and not just a health approach – to suicide prevention, 66 per cent agreed this was necessary. Only 8 per cent disagreed.
SPA CEO Nieves Murray said it was clear this was one of the best ways to address rising distress in the community, particularly as governments looked to support Australia’s COVID recovery.
Such legislation would require officials to consider and mitigate suicide risks when making any government decisions.
“Australia needs a national Suicide Prevention Act and we need to act now,” Murray said.
“We all have a role to play in preventing suicide. An act will legislate a whole-of-government priority to prevent suicide and focus the attention of every agency to address the risk of suicide across our community.”
SPA notes that a similar approach has been taken in Japan, which used to have the highest suicide rate in the developed world but reduced suicides by around a third over the past decade.
The suicide rate in Japan did increase for the first time in 11 years last year, but experts believe this was likely due to the impacts of the pandemic.
Murray said the heightened economic and social threat posed by the pandemic meant government action on suicide prevention must be taken immediately.
She said the fact so many Australians supported this “low-cost, low-risk, low-impact, high-outcome option” proved a whole-of-government response was needed.
“Suicide prevention isn’t limited to health portfolios. Housing is suicide prevention, employment is suicide prevention, finance is suicide prevention, and education is suicide prevention,” she said.
“We’ve seen how quickly COVID-19 cases can get out of hand and we need to have the same national policy focus and vigilance to stop suicide rates doing the same.”
Last month crisis support service Lifeline recorded the highest daily number of calls in the organisation’s history, with extended lockdowns across the country cited as a key reason for the surge.
Murray said the suicide prevention sector was working to ensure it met the evolving needs of the community during this difficult time.
“As a sector, we are doing our best to ensure people have access to safe, effective support services and are continuing to find alternative solutions such as peer-led, digital and community-led initiatives,” she said.
If this article has raised any issues for you, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14, or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.