Dr HAINES (Indi) (17:12):
I thank the member for Macquarie for this important motion.
When it comes to public policy, surely nothing is more important than creating change to bring hope and health to the citizens we serve and, most especially, to our youngest citizens.
When I think about suicide prevention, I think about how we create, maintain and restore hope. We have heard the statistics, but we must never lose sight that each statistic represents a person with a family and a community grieving for their loss, with devastating and long-lasting effects on those left behind.
I know because, like thousands of families across Australia, my family lost a beloved family member to suicide: on 27 July, 2002; he was my brother-in-law, Pete.
Suicide can affect anyone, but we know some populations are at greater risk. There is also no single reason why a person chooses to end their life. The reasons are often complex.
The prevalence of people experiencing mental illness is similar across the nation—around 20 per cent—but that this is the leading cause of death for young people is devastating. Rates of self-harm and suicide increase with remoteness, suggesting there are very significant mental health issues to be addressed in rural and remote areas.
Deaths by suicide are preventable. First things first: it’s about removing the unrelenting stress incurred when the basics of daily life are not a sure thing. Suicide prevention starts when you never have to worry about having a safe home; when you can get the education you want; when you have a secure job that you enjoy with fair pay; when you know that your race, gender or sexuality will not impact how you live your life; when you’re confident that there’s a safety net there for you when things go wrong.
Context and place are key to person centred suicide prevention, and there are some incredible local initiatives in my Indi electorate demonstrating how local people can taking action and bring hope.
The fact that we have a headspace in our border region is a very real human story of an incredible family and a powerful community campaign. The Baker family from Albury lost their beautiful 15-year-old daughter, Mary, to suicide in 2011. Mary had an eating disorder, and suicide is 31 times more likely for someone with an eating disorder. Together with The Border Mail’s End the Suicide Silence campaign, the people of the border successfully lobbied the federal government to get this facility.
Annette and Stuart Baker didn’t leave it there. They founded Survivors of Suicide and Friends and created the annual Winter Solstice event in Albury. This event, on 21 June, which will be live streamed this year, is an opportunity for communities to gather on the longest, and often coldest, night of the year to be entertained, enlightened and supported.
Annette Baker says the Winter Solstice came out of a need to support locals who had lost a loved one to suicide and to remove the stigma associated with it. She said: ‘Being the longest night of the year it can be a hard, dark time. I thought the winter solstice was a beautiful symbolic date to hold an event.’
Last year, I was deeply honoured to recite a poem at the event, and this year our parliamentary colleague the Hon. Linda Burney will be the guest speaker.
Another example in my community is in Benalla, with the Live4Life whole-of-community youth suicide prevention model, which began in 2017 and is being piloted by Benalla Rural City Council.
Live4Life aims to increase the mental health knowledge of all year 8 and year 11 students and their teachers, parents and carers, and to reduce barriers to seeking help for emerging or current mental health issues in young people.
The community partnership includes NE Tracks LLEN, Tomorrow Today Foundation, Victoria Police, Benalla Health, Central Hume Primary Care Partnership, NESAY, NECAHMS and local community members.
So far, 508 years 7 to 9 students, 282 years 10 to 12 students and 25 adults have undertaken this training. The hard work of the Benalla community has been recognised and will be bolstered soon by a mental health hub funded by the Victorian government as part of its response to the Victorian mental health royal commission. The community can take great credit for this.
These local examples show us that our efforts to prevent suicide must be informed by the insights offered by those who best understand the nature of suicidal distress.
It is the knowledge of those with lived experience that must guide strategy, action and service provision to ensure a response that puts their needs at the forefront.