Suicide prevention and mental health package signals once in a generation reforms

The Morrison Government is investing $64 million in suicide prevention and mental health initiatives as an early response to initial advice from the National Suicide Prevention Adviser, signalling a dramatic reform of the national approach to suicide prevention.

3,046 Australians lost their lives to suicide in 2018.

“This is a national tragedy. Every life lost to suicide has a devastating impact on families, friends and communities. Every life lost affects our whole country,” Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, said.

The Government has made suicide prevention and mental health a national priority. In 2019, the Prime Minister appointed Ms Christine Morgan as the National Suicide Prevention Adviser to support this priority and rethink Australia’s approach to suicide prevention.

Ms Morgan has consulted widely with individuals, families, communities, organisations and governments across the country, and has presented her initial findings to the Prime Minister.

She has advocated for a fundamental shift in the approach to the prevention of suicide and self-harm. Her initial advice outlines the need to use the knowledge of lived experience, to intervene early, focus on specific at-risk groups, strengthen families and communities, and ensure that all government services – not just health services – are working to reduce suicide.

“Christine’s initial advice will be made available shortly to canvass early findings with the sector and all interested stakeholders,” Minister Hunt said.

“I encourage all Australians interested in suicide prevention to engage with Christine and contribute to the interim report handed down in July. This will help guide the Government’s longer term response to suicide prevention.”

Ms Morgan said she was pleased to provide initial advice to the Government.

“In talking to individuals and communities over the past six months, it has been clear to me that we need to co-design our suicide prevention approach in a way that is led by those with lived and living experience of suicide,” Ms Morgan said.

“We often think about services and systems and what is available, rather than truly understand what people need and what has worked, and not worked, for them in the past. We need to put people back at the centre of policies and planning.”

The Government will be providing $64 million to immediately action Ms Morgan’s initial advice.

These initiatives will focus on supporting some of the most vulnerable groups, including:

  • Australians who have been discharged from hospital after a suicide attempt.
  • Families and carers who have lost a loved one to suicide.
  • Young Australians, particularly in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and in regional and rural areas.
  • Australians in crisis, and in need of immediate assistance.

We will also be renewing our commitment to find the best approaches to suicide prevention by extending and strengthening our national suicide prevention trials.

Aftercare and postvention

Individuals who have attempted suicide are particularly vulnerable to further suicide attempts. In the 2018-19 Budget, the Government committed $37.6 million for the Way Back program, which provides non-clinical, assertive outreach, follow-up care, and practical support to people in the three months following a suicidal crisis or attempt.

“Today, I am pleased to announce we will provide $7 million over two years from 2020-21 to expand the Way Back and other programs to increase the coverage of aftercare services in Australia,” Minister Hunt said.

“In addition, we will provide $10 million over two years from 2020-21 for an initial expansion of the StandBy Support After Suicide Service, to ensure more Australians have access to the critical care they need after losing a loved one to suicide.”

People who have been bereaved by suicide are also at a significantly elevated risk of dying by suicide. The StandBy program is Australia’s largest postvention program, and provides a coordinated community response to suicide through 24/7 support, education and workshops.

“I am pleased Ms Morgan’s initial findings have reinforced the importance of what the Government is already doing to reduce suicide levels in Australia, particularly our investments in aftercare and postvention services.”

Youth Mental Health and Suicide Prevention

The Government will provide a boost to investment in peer support for young people through organisations such as the Raise Foundation and ReachOut ($4.6 million in 2020-21), so that young people can get advice and help from trusted members of their communities who have real world experience of the issues they are facing.

We will extend support for the headspace National Youth Mental Health Foundation to deliver suicide prevention training and education sessions in schools through the Schools Suicide Prevention Activities Program ($4.4 million from 2020-21).

We will also extend the headspace Pilbara regional trial, which provides outreach-based headspace services through co-location with community, education, and Indigenous health services. In addition, the Government will establish headspace centres in Port Hedland and Karratha, and expand the capacity of services in Roma and Emerald.

“headspace is a vital entry point to mental health care for young people. These new and expanded services will provide critical support to young people living in regional and rural Australia,” Minister Hunt said.

“This support will help improve social and wellbeing outcomes for young people by taking a proactive approach to prevention, encouraging help-seeking behaviour, and building social connectedness and resilience,” Ms Morgan said.

To build on this, and support ongoing reform in child and youth mental health, the National Mental Health Commission will also receive an additional $1 million in 2019-20.

Crisis Support

It is essential that individuals in crisis get immediate care. To ensure services are able to manage increased demand, the Government will provide an additional $1.5 million to Lifeline Australia and $500,000 to Kids Helpline in 2019-20. This will support recovery from exposure to traumatic events by ensuring people affected by the bushfires can get the support they need, when they need it.

The Government will also expedite the creation of the eight new adult mental health centres funded in the 2019-20 Budget. These centres will provide an easily accessible entry point to the mental health system, and rapid access to holistic, multi-disciplinary mental health care.

National Suicide Prevention Trials

Ms Morgan’s initial advice points out the critical need to build our understanding of what really works in relation to suicide prevention for Australians in different parts of the country, and particularly in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, which have a significantly higher rate of suicide than non-indigenous communities.

In response, we will be providing $13.4 million in 2020-21 to extend the National Suicide Prevention Trial sites for a further year, including funding to enhance the evaluation of the various suicide prevention activities across the country.

Funding will support trial sites to sustain suicide prevention activity, and coordinate existing evaluation activity to ensure the best possible evidence base will be available at the national level.

Initial response

The measures address some urgent priorities and provide a strong foundation for the Government’s important ongoing transformation of the mental health and suicide prevention system.

Minister Hunt said the initiatives were another positive step in Australia’s journey towards zero suicides.

The Government is making record investments in mental health services and support – increasing from $4.9 billion in 2018-19, to $5.2 billion in 2019-20.

The 2019-20 Budget also included $740.6 million for mental health and suicide prevention, including $509.0 million for the largest ever youth mental health and suicide prevention plan.

“We know there is more work to be done, and we will continue to work with individuals, families, communities, organisations and governments to make a lasting difference across Australia,” Minister Hunt said.

“Our total commitment to transforming our mental health system will help build the strong communities that are the backbone of our great nation, and safeguard the lives of those closest to us, now and in the future.”

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