More research needed into vulnerable kids at risk of self-harm and suicide

It remains a topic shrouded in shame and silence, but suicide continues to be a leading cause of death for young Australians aged 15 to 24.

The issue of suicide and self-harm was also a major part of the National Children's Commissioner's report for 2014 with public submissions on the issue made available to the public.

Data graphic: Crisis calls to Kids Helpline double

A total of 140 submissions many of them anonymous personal stories of loss, grief and hope were mixed in with submissions from those working on the frontline of mental health.

In an anonymous submission a young woman born in Hong Kong shared her story about her recovery from self-harm.

"The first time I hurt myself was around aged 10. Cutting was very common among my peers at school and in my culture. I grew up without a father. And my mother was constantly absent from my life because she was away working 6 days a week. I only got to see her once a week on Sundays."

She said psychological abuse by her mother triggered her self-harming behaviour.

"But she was abusive and constantly made me feel worthless, unloved and dirty. She never touched me and when she did by accident she would quickly wash her hands and stare at me with disgust."

The young woman attempted suicide on numerous occasions in Hong Kong, but life stabilised after she migrated to Australia on her own at the age of 19.

Hers was one of many personal stories sent to the Australian Human Rights Commission as part of a public consultation process into self-harm and suicide amongst young people in Australia.

The report found that while suicide continues to be a leading cause of death for young Australians aged between 15 and 24, there was evidence things were improving.

Dr Philip Hazell is a Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry with the Sydney Medical School at the University of Sydney.

"The death rate for suicide among young people has been trending downward rather than upward. That's the good news. The very bad news is that our young Indigenous people are seriously over represented in the death statistics for suicide."

Dr Hazell said most young people who died had a complex set of mental health, social and substance abuse problems. Most had problems with the mental health and welfare services in the year prior to their death.

He said the deaths didn't mean the system wasn't working.

"Now the glass half empty view of that is that we're failing these people and that the systems aren't working. Actually I don't think that's the appropriate and correct interpretation. Actually I think the systems are working very well. But there are still situations where we need to work better. We need to be smarter to be able to capture and recognise those kids particularly those who are in the escalating category."

The Commissioner's report showed along with Indigenous kids who are five times more likely to die as a result of self-harm, another risk factor was being same-sex attracted and transgender.

Atari Metcalf was one of the authors of a submission to the inquiry by the gay and lesbian support group, Twenty10, and the University of Western Sydney.

He said more research was needed into why transgender and same sex attracted young people for example were more vulnerable.

"We see significant disparities. That data that we have available which is fairly recent that research has identified that 62 per cent of young people who are for example transgender had thought about self-harm, and 62 per cent had actually harmed themselves. And a further 64 per cent had thought about suicide, which compares to much lower numbers in terms of the general community."

The report also highlighted some of the support services available for kids in need including Kids Helpline, a free confidential, telephone and online counselling service for young people aged up to 25.

The CEO of Kids Helpline Tracey Adams said from January 2004 until September 2014  more than three-million contacts were made to the service. 

While the figure was of concern, Tracey Adams said it also indicated younger people were getting better at seeking help.

"We want young people to seek help earlier rather than later. It's fine to help seek. Let's get a culture where this becomes the norm. Not leaving people to get into really serious critical areas where they are even considering taking their own life."

If you are distressed, support is available by calling Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.









Source SBS

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