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New figures suggest mental health awareness is preventing suicides during the coronavirus crisis

Two-thirds of the suicide cases were not in contact with mental health services when they died. Source: iStockphoto

The Lifeline help service is currently receiving close to 90,000 calls every month, or one call every 30 seconds.

Content warning: This article contains reference to suicide

New statistics from the Coroners Court of Victoria suggest growing mental health awareness has helped prevent a spike in suicides during the coronavirus crisis. 

The report, which presents an analysis of all Victorian suicides from 1 January 2016 to 26 August 2020, shows there have been 466 suicides this year, compared with 468 suicides this time last year. 

A recent report by the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre said Australia could see an increase in suicides of “at least” 13.7 percent over the next five years as the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic take hold.

Professor Ian Hickie, co-director of the centre, said maintaining employment programs such as JobKeeper and other social assistance programs could help prevent that drastic rise.

“The government has actually picked up part of what we have been saying is the most important mental health measure which is the extension of JobKeeper,” Professor Hickie told SBS News.  

“Some of the measures that the government has taken we hope, we don’t know, we hope, that they are successful in the long run, as we have to see what happens with job losses.

"We will have to see as time goes on given what’s happened to Victoria with the shutdown being most recent.”

Professor Hickie said that, despite the coroner’s report, he is concerned other mental health indicators, “have gone in the wrong direction”. 

For example, there has been a 25 per cent increase in the number of calls being made to Lifeline Australia, a charity that offers 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention services.

Lifeline Australia chair John Brogden told SBS News the coroner’s report came as positive news. 

“These numbers are very important and they are good news,” Mr Brogden said.

Judge John Cain - Victoria State Coroner
Judge John Cain - Victoria State Coroner
Victorian Bar

“Whilst we’ve seen a significant increase in demands for mental health services, including a 25 percent increase in Lifeline calls during the pandemic, the good news is that we have never had more mental health funding and services available and it appears that those services are helping people and preventing suicide.

“I hope that the story is that all the people are reaching out and not being ashamed, that they are getting the services they need and that is meaning they are not taking their own lives.”

Mr Brogden said Lifeline was now receiving close to 90,000 calls each month, or one call every 30 seconds. 

"With the Victorian lockdown, we experienced a 30 per cent increase in calls originating from Victoria," he said.

"Australian’s are recognising the importance of connecting and talking through the challenges they’re facing"

Victoria's state coroner, Judge John Cain, said the fact that the numbers have not gone up is encouraging.

“There is clearly growing awareness and community concern regarding mental health and suicide - and everyone should have access to the facts," he said.

“While it is encouraging to see there has not been an increase in suicides to date, our focus is to prevent all suicide deaths and see the figures go down.

"Open, transparent discussions are critical to reducing suicides, but must be handled with care.

“The release of these data reports will enable accurate and safe conversations about suicide in Victoria.”

Readers seeking support can contact Lifeline crisis support on 13 11 14, Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 and Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 (for young people aged 5 to 25). More information is available at Beyond Blue.org.au and lifeline.org.au

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits.

If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. News and information is available in 63 languages at https://sbs.com.au/coronavirus

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