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Monday, 2 December 2002
Page: 9287

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Dr SOUTHCOTT (4:06 PM) —I am pleased to be able to support the motion moved by the member for Calwell and to make a number of points in speaking to it. First of all, Australia is not No. 1 for its rate of youth suicide. Although our rate is far too high, we are not top of the rankings, as is sometimes said. Secondly, the youth suicide rate is falling and has been since 1997. Thirdly, the National Suicide Prevention Strategy is well based on current research on the prevention of harm to and the treatment of those at risk.

Since we have discussed some of the aspects that might assist, it might help the House to talk a little about some of the things that are already part of the national strategy. The role of families is recognised, and resources are given to recognise early warning signs for mental health problems, to access professional help and to support children and young people with a mental health program. There is a school program called MindMatters , which is focused on prevention and early intervention in school and offers a mental health promotion resource for teachers and the like who each day are in contact with young people at risk. There is also a FamilyMatters program, which again deals with mental health promotion, prevention and early intervention, in conjunction with the school program.

Over the last 40 years, as we have seen a fall in the rate of suicide amongst older adults and a dramatic fall in deaths from motor vehicle accidents, we have seen a large rise in the rate of youth suicide amongst young males. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death amongst young Australians—second only to motor vehicle accidents. The rate of suicide amongst Australian males aged 15 to 24 has increased 3½ times between 1964 and 1997. Over the same period, the rate for females rose only 1.4 times the 1964 rate. As I mentioned, it is often said that we have the highest rate in the world. In fact, a 1996 UNICEF study examining youth suicide rates in 32 countries ranked Australia as having the ninth highest rate of male youth suicide, behind Eastern European countries and some developed countries, such as Finland, New Zealand and Norway. In 1996, the WHO ranked Australia 13th for male youth suicide.

Youth suicide increased up to 1997, but since then youth suicide has declined significantly in terms of both the number of suicides and the rate of suicide. Since 1997 there has been a 35 per cent fall in suicide amongst the 15- to 24-year-old age group. Disaggregated figures since 1998 show that rural areas have a higher rate of suicide. Some ABS data have shown that the rate is 50 per cent higher in rural areas than in metropolitan areas. The ABS has also found that the suicide rate for Indigenous Australians is 1.6 times the rate for non-Indigenous Australians and that suicide rate amongst Aboriginal males aged 15 to 19 is four times higher than for non-Aboriginal people.

There is some recent research on this rise. In a paper published in 2000 in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, Lynskey, Degenhardt and Hall found that societal and other changes may be responsible for the rise in youth suicide since the 1960s. They also concluded that this cohort would not be at increased risk of suicide throughout life. Over this time frame, there has been a rise in psychosocial disorders such as substance use disorders, affective disorders and antisocial behaviour. However, they cautioned against attributing the increased suicide rate to a rise in psychosocial disorders alone. Their conclusion was that, to reduce youth suicide, we need to focus on identifying and treating psychiatric illness and improving the effects of disrupted and dysfunctional parenting. As members of the House will know, mood disorders are eminently treatable.

There is some recent research on risk factors. Annette Beautrais has also published a paper in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry. She examined risk factors, and she found them to include social and family risk factors such as parental separation, mental health factors such as affective disorders, substance use, antisocial behaviour, stressful life events such as interpersonal losses and conflict, and individual vulnerability—those with certain personality characteristics. The article concluded by suggesting that suicidal behaviours in young people are frequently, although not invariably, the end point of adverse life sequences in which multiple risk factors combine to encourage the development of suicidal behaviour.

Prevention should focus on improved public understanding of mental health issues, education programs for those who work with youth, the provision of adequate specialised mental health services for young people, follow-up and treatment of those at high risk, and development of general mental health programs. (Time expired)