Out in the open – suicide

It’s World Suicide Prevention Day next week followed closely by RUOK Day. Berowra MP Julian Leeser talks here about a cause close to his heart

Suicide is an issue that touches almost all of us. It is one of the great challenges facing Australia – over 3,000 people died by suicide in 2015 – eight people a day and more than 100 people in the Berowra electorate alone in recent years.

This month, we mark World Suicide Prevention Day on Sunday, 10 September and RUOK Day on Thursday, 14 September. It is also one year since I delivered my Maiden Speech in Parliament in which I recounted the night of my father’s suicide 21 years ago.

Following my speech, I received thousands of emails, calls and letters from people across the electorate and around Australia sharing their stories and experiences – of loved ones lost to suicide.

Since my speech, I’ve founded a parliamentary group to raise awareness among Members of Parliament and Senators of the risk suicide poses to our communities and the urgency of taking action. This group has garnered incredible support from across the political spectrum and the Prime Minister and Minister for Health have both expressed their strong personal commitment to mental health and suicide prevention.

The federal government has been working to combat the increasing rate of suicide in Australia. During the election campaign last year, the Coalition announced $192 million towards a National Suicide Prevention strategy. In the 2017 federal budget, the Government pledged more than $170 million for mental health support, treatment and research and $58.6 million for veteran’s mental health and suicide prevention strategies.

Something I’ve discovered since beginning work in this space is the need for better community mental health services to keep people out of mental health units and to provide them with support and rehabilitation once they’re discharged from hospital. When you break your leg, you go through treatment and rehab to allow you to fully recover from your injury – we need to treat mental illness like we would any physical injury.

I want to draw attention to some of the dedicated local organisations working to foster better mental health and to prevent suicides.

*Lifeline Harbour to Hawkesbury based in Gordon serving our community from North Sydney all the way up to Wiseman’s Ferry and the Hawkesbury River, provides crisis support and suicide prevention services through a 24/7 phone helpline for those experiencing suicidal thoughts, depression, anxiety, loneliness or personal crises. If you or someone you know is struggling with these thoughts, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

*Young people in our community are at an increased risk of suicide. KYDS Youth Development Service is a local organisation providing free support to young people dealing with a range of issues related to poor mental health and suicide. They support children and adolescents across the Berowra electorate and Northern Sydney through their centres at Hornsby and Lindfield.

In 2015, suicide was the leading cause of death among all people 15 to 44 years of age. Statistics show men are three times more likely to take their own lives than women – those suffering from the breakdown of a marriage or relationship are particularly at risk.

I became involved with the organisation Dads in Distress when one of their members reached out after hearing my maiden speech. Dads in Distress hosts regular night sessions allowing local dads to ‘check in’ with each other, sharing their problems and building solutions based on the experiences of the members. I’m joining Dads in Distress at their meeting in Hornsby later this month.

However, older Australians are also at a higher risk of suicide, particularly older men. Groups like the men’s sheds in Hornsby, Kenthurst and Cowan provide members with a social outlet that many lose when they retire from the permanent workforce. The strong community spirit at the men’s sheds helps those dealing with depression, Parkinson’s and dementia, and fosters better mental health and resilience for people facing all kinds of personal challenges.

At every stage of life we need to teach people coping strategies and the willingness to seek help for loneliness, disappointment, fear, stress, challenge, loss and anger. These things are a normal part of life and having the right tools is the key to getting through them.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to suicide prevention, but I believe we need to focus on building a stronger sense of community and create a culture of resilience to combat the ongoing issue of suicide in our society.

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