6 minute read

Nine people – every day. That’s how many deaths by suicide occur in Australia on average. Astoundingly, research shows suicide as the leading cause of death for those aged from 15-24 years.   

The data is shocking. Each one of these deaths is a tragedy. The taking of one’s life in the fullness of youth - additionally heartbreaking.   

This is National Suicide Prevention Week. Most of us know someone who has been impacted by suicide or have ourselves been touched by it.  

There is a clear need for improved support for people experiencing suicidal thoughts and intentions, those who have made an attempt, and those who support them or are living with the grief of losing someone to suicide.    

But what drives people to take their own lives?  

Answering those questions, too often people – including policymakers – pigeonhole suicide as solely a mental health issue. If the only response we have to suicide is one focused on clinical intervention to address the signs and symptoms of mental ill health, then we are missing opportunities to help people when they need it. By recognising the intersecting risk factors for suicide, we can lessen them and build up those protective factors which help people recover.   

What we’re missing here is a conversation about suicide responses that work with people to address their individual needs. These needs might include addressing mental health concerns. They also might include other life areas and risk factors for suicide, like financial stress, housing insecurity and homelessness, age, anxieties about the impacts of climate change, loneliness and isolation, and living with stigma and discrimination.   

Stigma and discrimination create particular barriers to accessing services, and lead to delays in people seeking help – if they do at all. This is especially relevant for young people, those in the LGBTQIA+ community, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and culturally and linguistically diverse people.   

So where do people go when they are distressed? Emergency Departments are at breaking point, and experiences in the ED often add to people’s distress or see them being discharged with inadequate support options.  

What can we do?  

People need safe and affirming spaces to go to when they’re in crisis. They need support for their individual needs and support from people who can work alongside them to build hope and purpose.   

At Mind Australia we see enormous potential to improve suicide response in the outcomes from peer-led services we have had the opportunity to pilot and operate – the LGBTQIA+ Aftercare service in Victoria and the Connect program in South Australia.   

Mind’s LGBTQIA+ Aftercare team consists of mental health peer support workers and allied health workers who are part of the LGBTQIA+ community and have their own lived experience of suicidality.   

Having access to peer workers with similar experience as the clients is an integral part of the program’s success. Peer workers provide support and foster a safe and affirming space, leading to clients experiencing a sense of community, reduced isolation, increased self-advocacy skills and political empowerment.  

The Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System has made the case for a holistic, peer-led, community focused model of mental health and wellbeing. It is clearly time that suicide prevention adopts the same model.

One Aftercare peer worker, Amy, poignantly described why LGBTIQ+ peer suicide services are needed and so powerful.  

“From the ages of 17 to 23, I experienced chronic suicidality, and despite multiple hospital admissions, psychologists and support staff, there was no access to anyone who was openly queer and had their own experience with suicide – someone who could show me they have moved through this and survived.   

“I did not even know how to explore the intersection of my sexuality and identity and my suicidality. If I could have met someone who could allow and guide these conversations it would have been very helpful for my recovery. Finding people you can fit in with goes a long way to feeling safe.”  

People in South Australia who have been referred to our Connect peer-led service from clinical and crisis settings have echoed the positive impact of peer-led services and peer workers. The most common reason people were referred to Connect was suicidal ideation and suicide attempt.   

Connect’s overarching goal is to help clients find strategies to be able to better manage their mental health when they are in crisis, so they don’t have to resort to presenting to an Emergency Department.  

The practitioners also support individuals and their families to establish relationships with key service providers to ensure an integrated suite of supports is available to meet their identified needs.   

Connect provides people with tailored support, connects them with other supports that address life areas that intersect with their mental health and wellbeing.   

Peer programs like this provide a more appropriate long term solution than Emergency Departments for people in mental distress and relieve pressure on our overburdened hospital and ambulance services. Support services in the community are the missing link that can help people achieve sustained recovery in the community.  

Program evaluation by the SA Lived Experience Leadership Network showed that all of the people who accessed the Connect service reported they felt listened to, heard, and validated during their time in Connect, with people also feeling empowered to take charge of their own recovery.  

Peer services in both of these settings actively contributed to better outcomes for people accessing the services.   

What do we want?  

We want to see greater partnerships between clinical, non-clinical, government and non-government services, with more peer-led service models so that when people seek help they can access it.   

The Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System and the federal government’s Productivity Commission into Mental Health have made the case for a holistic, peer-led, community focused model of mental health and wellbeing. It is clearly time that suicide prevention adopts the same model.   

The Connect and Aftercare programs have addressed a service gap in mental health by providing an alternative to the Emergency Department, delivering holistic support in the community, and by addressing life areas that intersect with mental health.   

Their evaluations provide clear evidence that walking alongside people in crisis taking the time to listen and create opportunities for people with similar experiences to help them feel heard and safe is an effective way to address suicide prevention.  

For nine people a day – and their families - this could make all the difference.  

If this article raises concerns for you, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14. Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islanders can also call 13 YARN (13 92 76) a 24/7 national crisis support telephone service staffed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. 
If you would like more information, please contact us.

1300 286 463 
[email protected]