A recent Senate Committee Inquiry into suicide in Australia has called on the government to do more, provide more funding and to focus more attention on the tragic issue of suicide, particularly for high risk groups like the elderly.
The Hidden Toll: Suicide in Australia report from the Senate Inquiry, which was released last week, detailed the increasing need for governments to provide resilience and suicide prevention programs for older people.
It specifically mentioned the need to address social isolation issues facing older men and gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex individuals. Older people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds were also identified as having a heightened risk of suicide.
The inquiry took note of many submissions including that of the Australian Medical Association (AMA), which emphasised the importance of the relationship between older people and medical practitioners in suicide prevention.
AMA federal vice president, Dr Steve Hambleton, spoke of the dire need for governments address this “serious public health issue”.
“It’s the 15th leading cause of death in Australia and the 10th leading cause of death in men,” Dr Hambleton said. “And it’s certainly underreported, so it would be higher than that. It’s a tragedy.”
Dr Hambleton asked all sectors to unite under one common cause- to hold the federal government to its health care reform promise.
“We say that in the national health reform agenda, mental health must be the next cab off the rank,” he said.
“With an ageing population, we need to make sure that we have the right [policies in place] and that mental health and suicide in the older population is addressed.”
He stressed the need for a multidisciplinary approach to suicide prevention: “You shouldn’t underestimate the community support services that exist. Aged care and community groups are very important.
“It’s not just about medical care but social isolation is very important…It’s multifactorial. We need to support all of those areas that can make a difference.”
The Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs recommended that older people should be targeted by specific suicide prevention programs. The report said that there should be an increase in the number of projects and in the amount of funding dedicated to preventing males from attempting suicide.
“Commonwealth, State and Territory governments [should] provide accredited suicide prevention training to all ‘front line’ staff, including those in heath care, law enforcement, corrections, social security, employment services, family and child services, education and aged care,” the report said.
“Finally the Committee has recommended that a target should be set by government for the reduction of suicide in Australia by 2020 to focus the attention of the public and policy makers on suicide prevention.”
The inquiry report also urged the government to provide more mental health resources; to recognise LGBTI people in suicide prevention strategies and to increase the coordination of programs and services necessary for effective suicide prevention in Australia.