STATEMENT - World Suicide Prevention Day

A loved one that can't be reached; a message left behind; the panic that follows for a family not knowing; a fork in the road. For some, the attempt leads to a long road of recovery; for others, it leaves families, friends and communities devastated for a lifetime. Suicide attempts and suicides are becoming more and more common, and it is just not good enough. This Sunday 10 September is World Suicide Prevention Day. I thank the Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention for her remarks on this statement of significant matters. It matters that we're in this together. I also acknowledge the parliamentarians who have come before and led the work in this space. As the shadow assistant minister, I am saddened but also driven to drive change and reduce the high levels of suicide in order for Australia to reach a rate of zero suicides. We've been faced with acute challenges over recent years. The accumulation of distress caused by multiple bushfires and floods, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and now the cost-of-living crisis are seeing Australian families suffer like never before.

I note this morning's Suicide Prevention Australia event. The peak body brought together many organisations and connected us with shocking but real stories that are impacting so many families across this country. But they also produced—which is really important—positive mechanisms to fight suicidality and reduce suicides in all of our communities. It doesn't matter if we are from lower socioeconomic communities or some of the most affluent in our country; it impacts every single Australian.

Today's release of the quarterly Community Tracker by Suicide Prevention Australia and their annual State of the nation in suicide prevention report has some harrowing statistics. In particular, for the first time in their reports, more than half of Australian families are reporting unprecedented levels of cost-of-living distress, at 56 per cent. Nearly half of those surveyed stated that 'cost of living and personal debt' was their highest cause of distress, at 46 per cent, which has occurred for the fifth quarter in a row. Suicide prevention organisations noted they have experienced a 77 per cent increase in demand for services over the last 12 months; 81 per cent of organisations require more funding to meet the increased demand; and more than eight in 10 of the 363 organisations that responded to the report anticipate a rise in suicide rates over the coming year.

The economic headwinds are prevailing, and we need urgent action to address the mental health risks this is causing for young people who are facing rental and employment pressures, mums and dads with mortgages who are just trying to stay afloat, and seniors who are wondering how to pay the heating bills this winter and pay for fresh produce at the supermarket. These pressures are bearing down on our children, with certain mental health organisations telling me that children, hearing their parents talking about cost-of-living stressors at home, are facing mental ill health and stress because of what their parents are going through.

One way to alleviate a cost-of-living pressure of affording psychology sessions would be to reinstate the coalition government's Better Access program in full. An elected coalition government would restore the 20 Medicare subsidised psychology sessions to ensure kids, families and seniors were given more financial relief to see a psychologist when they need to, and I thank the Leader of the Opposition for his leadership and commitment to this.

The previous coalition government had a strong track record and left a strong plan for suicide prevention, and I would like to acknowledge my colleague David Coleman for his work in this space when he was the Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention. When the coalition left government, stage 2 commitments for Australia's National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan in the 2022-23 budget saw $648.6 million of investment. This included money for prevention and early intervention at $336 million, $344 million for suicide prevention, $1.8 billion for treatment, $150 million to support the vulnerable and $290 million for workforce and governance.

Specifically for suicide prevention and working towards zero suicides, the previous coalition government left investments of over $30 million to deploy regional and community based suicide prevention systems across all Primary Health Networks nationally, ensuring that communities have the tools to identify and respond early to emerging issues; over $10 million to fund a suicide prevention regional response leader to coordinate early intervention and suicide prevention activities in each of Australia's 31 PHNs; and $4 million to expand the existing research into suicide prevention by providing a further two years of funding for the Suicide Prevention Research Fund delivered by Suicide Prevention Australia.

Additionally, to support mental health and suicide prevention measures, other key investments included $17.8 million to deliver dedicated evidence-based mental health support to multicultural communities across Australia; $8.6 million to establish the Social and Emotional Wellbeing (Mental Health) Policy Partnership under the National Agreement on Closing the Gap, to maintain momentum in reducing the devastating impact of mental ill health and suicide on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, families and communities; and $8.5 million for the Red Dust program, to support culturally appropriate mental health care in remote Northern Territory communities, focused on social and emotional wellbeing, relationships, alcohol and other drugs and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

These investments and the five pillars of the Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan enabled high-quality, compassionate, person-centred care wherever and whenever it was required. The plan at that point was worth $3 billion in total and was the largest direct investment in mental health and suicide prevention to date by an Australian government. It took the total mental health and suicide prevention funding to $6.8 billion, more than double the amount under the previous governments. But I would like to acknowledge the current government for continuing this work and having a commitment to zero suicides in this country. This is something that is very much bipartisan.

Two weekends ago I was contacted by a constituent. It was on a Sunday morning. She sent me an email and said, 'Please help.' She is a loving wife who had been waiting at the local hospital for two days for her husband to see someone. He had attempted suicide and was left in the emergency department and then the waiting room of the mental health unit until he was given a bed, 36 hours later. This occurred because there were multiple patients with severe acute episodes who the medical practitioners deemed needed urgent attention over the constituent's husband. She has a young child at home missing their mum and dad. She wants her husband to get better and hopes his stresses over their local small business—the stresses they are facing in small business right now because of cost-of-living pressures—can be lowered enough for him to go back to work, to get better and to continue their life. That's all they want. She wants what she believes is his depression to be diagnosed, for him to be given assistance and to begin a pathway to recovery. She said that his waiting time was just not good enough—and it wasn't. More needs to be done when it comes to not only mental health beds in our hospitals but workforce shortages too.

This is just one story in my community, but it is a powerful story and a story that is shared across many families in Western Sydney and right across our nation today. If anyone is struggling right now, please reach out to Lifeline on 131114. Suicidality is a hard discussion to be had with anyone. However, as we move towards World Suicide Prevention Day, Mental Health Week and R U OK? Day, these are all reminders that it is incumbent on all of us to reach out to someone in need and have a conversation.

As I go across the country in this role, it is clear that we are losing a sense of community connection which is an important thread in the fabric of our society. Community connection has decreased due to COVID, and we know rates of volunteering and social participation have lowered. We need policies to act on these societal problems and re-engage many Australians to live happy and purposeful lives. We need connectedness to be a pillar of our society. This will help those difficult conversations moving forward, because each conversation can save a life.

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