Suicide: Australia faces ‘black swan’ COVID19 event, must act now

Suicide Prevention Australia

A rare ‘black swan’ event is posing serious consequences for Australia’s suicide rates, as three-quarters (78%) of frontline suicide prevention services and workers report increased demand in the wake of COVID19.

The findings are from the inaugural Australian State of the Nation in Suicide Prevention report – released to coincided with World Suicide Prevention Day 2020 today (Thursday, 10 September 2020).

Nieves Murray, CEO of Suicide Prevention Australia – who released the report – said a key solution included Federal Government introducing a standalone National Suicide Prevention Act taking a whole-of-government – not just mental health – approach. The report found this has overwhelming support from the suicide prevention sector (80%) and public (70%).

Ms Murray said Australia was headed for a “clash of economic and social distress”, with the suicide prevention sector significantly concerned about suicide risks driven by employment (82%), social isolation (81%) and relationship breakdown (77%), with 65% of respondents reporting a need for more funding and support to cope.

“International research shows as economies go down, suicide rates go up, and Australia has just entered its worst recession in nearly a century,” Ms Murray said.

“The longer COVID19 and its economic and social impacts run, the bigger the risk of a hidden ‘third wave’ of suicide deaths not recorded in the official virus figures.

“While our end goal must be reducing suicide rates towards zero, our immediate priority must be minimising any risk of them increasing during and after COVID-19.

“The national community was already vulnerable after the Bushfires and we must now urgently increase our efforts to fortify the community against COVID19 spreading to suicide rates.

“But we must also ensure the nation’s response is underpinned by clear, targeted and structurally-sound policy decisions, which is why we must in parallel introduce a National Suicide Prevention Act legislating our current – and future – response to events likes these.”

A “black swan” event (page 3) is defined as “an event that is extremely rare and unexpected but has very significant consequences.”

Australia’s annual suicide death rate (3046) is currently more-than-three times that of COVID19’s (753).

The State of the Nation report shows that in addition to a national Suicide Prevention Act, there’s also support for: extending Jobkeeper, increasing Jobseeker’s base rate, and investing in better real-time data reporting and collection to help identify suicide clusters and trends, which will be critical to Australia’s COVID19 response and recovery.

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/Public Release.