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Tuesday, 28 October 2014
Page: 12349


Ms O'DWYER (Higgins) (21:15): Throughout October the issue of mental health has been highlighted, not least with World Mental Health Day on 10 October. There are a wide range of mental health conditions, but I rise tonight to give voice to the all too frequent tragedy in our community of suicide. Deeply personal, suicide affects everyone, from immediate family members to those who may only hear about such a tragedy long after the event.

When we hear of the loss of someone, young or old, we naturally wonder 'Why?' We long to hold on to those near to us and assure them of our love and support. Today seven Australians, for whatever reason, will decide to end their own lives. Most likely, five of them will be men, half will be middle aged and the others aged between 15 and 30. All of these individuals will be loved and very deeply missed by their families and friends.

Last month I read in the Stonnington Leader and the Caulfield Glen Eira Leader newspapers, two local papers that cover my electorate of Higgins, that 411 people have suicided in the nearby Bayside region of Melbourne in the eight years leading to 2012. The article focussed on the suicide of a beautiful thirteen year old girl, and I praise the bravery of her sister in telling her story publicly and thereby encouraging others to also be open to this type of discussion. By talking about her story she may have helped someone else to get through a crisis.

But the problem in our community may be even bigger than we imagine. A June 2014 report by the Coronial Council of Victoria said 'it is widely recognised that suicide is underreported' and that inconsistencies in coronial practices hinder the accurate collection of suicide data. It is important that policy makers have accurate data on which to plan and make decisions about necessary prevention strategies and support programs.

Whatever the true numbers, there is no doubt that suicide is a huge public health problem in Australia and I congratulate the government, with the support of the opposition, in tackling this issue. Most importantly, the government and the community generally needs to know that the monies spent by government in prevention and support programs is achieving measurable goals, including preventing loss of lives. The appointment of Professor Patrick McGorry AO as Australian of the Year in January 2010 focussed our nation on the need for early intervention to arrest the development of mental health issues in 12 to 25 year olds, and it is now generally recognised that three-quarters of mental illness first presents in people under 25 years of age.

Headspace centres, which had been established in 2006 by the Howard government, were expanded so that more young people could drop in, free of charge, to receive counselling on a range of general and mental health issues. In 2014 the Australian government announced a further 15 centres, taking the total across Australia to 100, and 80,000 young Australians in both city and regional areas will benefit from these centres each year.

In my own electorate the suburbs of Prahran, Windsor and South Yarra have a very high number of young people in the target age range, almost 22 per cent of the population, coupled with a high ratio of people living in rented or state housing and a third of residents born outside of Australia—all factors that may impact on mental health and wellbeing. There is a clear case for Headspace centre in Higgins and I will continue to campaign for one. I know this because in October 2011 more than 200 people crammed into one of my local community centres for a community forum on mental health in my electorate to share their concerns with me as well as the speakers, including the Chairman of Beyond Blue and former Victorian Premier, the Hon. Jeff Kennett AC; Professor Jayashri Kulkarni, Director of the Monash Alfred Psychiatry Research Centre; and Quinn Pawson, Chief Executive of Prahran Mission.

This month the Australian government has announced a review of all existing federal, state and non-government mental health programs to ensure that funding is delivered to those programs that have been proven to be most effective; that services are being properly targeted; that they are not being duplicated; and that programs are not being unnecessarily burdened by red tape. In addition, the Australian government will commit $18 million over four years to establish a National Centre for Excellence in Youth Mental Health to conduct clinical trials and train a new generation of mental health workers; spend $5 million over three years to development a comprehensive e-mental health platform to provide easy access to advice and support 24 hours a day; expand the number of Headspace sites to 100; and provide a further $200 million over five years to Australian scientists and researchers working on ways to prevent or cure dementia, a brain disease that is expected to affect nearly one million Australians by 2050.

I applaud each of these initiatives to ensure that our nation has access to the very best available evidence based mental health services and that our specialist workforce receives both the training and the support they so greatly deserve. Again, I would like to particularly congratulate all of the work that community groups and individuals have put into raising awareness and also necessary funds for important research in mental health during the World Mental Health Day highlighted, as I said before, on 10 October. We are on a journey here in this parliament. I think the government is taking us further in that step on the journey, but we have more work to do.