The Federal Government says disturbing new figures have pushed it to rethink its approach to preventing youth suicide.
Youth suicide in Australia reached a peak in the mid to late 1990s. It led to the Federal Government setting up a national strategy to reduce the alarming trend.
According to most evaluations, the strategy was a success and the suicide rate went down.
But more than a decade later the Federal Government is again taking a look at what can be done to prevent youth suicide.
The chair of the House of Representatives Health Committee, Steve Georganas, is heading up a youth suicide roundtable in Melbourne.
“We had some statistics and they are quite staggering. We saw that the leading cause of death among Australians aged 15 to 24 – alongside road and traffic accident – is youth suicide,” Mr Georganas said.
“Now according to experts, one in four young people will experience a mental health condition at any time in the next 12 months. So these figures are quite staggering.”
The inquiry will hear from representatives from a variety of youth suicide prevention initiatives.
“Well, I am hoping out of today’s inquiry we get as much information as possible and to see the things that are currently working, how they are working and how can we make the services work better,” Mr Georganas said.
‘Specialised services needed’
Chris Tanti, the CEO of Headspace – the Commonwealth funded National Youth Mental Health Foundation – wants the Government to rethink how it approaches youth suicide.
“What we are trying to tell government is that we believe suicide is preventable and that the way to prevent suicide is to make sure that the appropriate services exist in the community,” Mr Tanti said.
“What we know currently is that there aren’t enough services to go around and there certainly aren’t enough specialised services to go around for young people.”
Jo Robinson from Orygen Youth Health is also presenting a submission. She says her group has three main objectives:
“Greater investment in targeting people we know to be at risk; an emphasis on facilitating, help seeking and promoting early detection programs; and I think the other thing is probably a strong commitment to a strategically driven research program,” Ms Robinson said.
“So far to date research has been very piecemeal at best and actually what we need is a strong program of rigorous research which tests proper, appropriate treatment interventions for young people.”
Mental health first aid training organisation MindSavers says the Government has done a good job at providing youth mental health support centres.
Spokeswoman Deborah Selway says what is important now is getting young people to take advantage of, and to connect with these services.
“I think there has been some fantastic initiatives out there – Headspace, Beyond Blue. There are so many resources available, which is phenomenal,” Ms Selway said.
“I think what we need to do is to be able to bridge the gap between those resources and getting it to the grassroots level where the young people are.”
She says one suggestion is training young people to deliver mental health services to their peers.
“Have a youth-directed focus with the information out there so that it is actually young people talking with young people, delivering to young people,” she said.
“Now I know that there are some mentors and role models out there who do that already, but I think if it is at all possible, we can actually improve on that and ensure that every school can partake and have a youth mental health mentor on site.”
The House of Representatives Health Committee is expected to table its report into youth suicide prevention in about a month’s time.