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COMMUNITY AFFAIRS REFERENCES COMMITTEE
30/03/2010
Suicide in Australia

CHAIR —Welcome. I understand you have been given information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence.

Mr Kyrwood —Yes.

CHAIR —I invite you to make an opening statement, if you feel like doing that, and then we will ask you some questions.

Mr Kyrwood —Firstly, thank you for giving us the opportunity to come and speak today. Mission Australia is a national community service organisation with around 300 community services across the country ranging from children, family and youth to homeless services and including a large footprint in employment services. In 2008-09 we helped 300,000 people. Specifically, we are not a generic mental health service provider, but we come in contact with a diverse and complex range of clients who need support in a range of areas of their lives, often including mental health. The focus of our service is on enhancing the wellbeing of our clients’ lives across a range of areas, including health, social and economic participation, and housing connection and participation.

We would argue that we need integrated responses and/or services that meet the needs of a whole person if we are to promote wellbeing, which is the language we like to use to encompass the whole person and all those issues I mentioned before. Whilst there is general agreement from governments about this principle of funding across and dealing with a whole person, current practice does not reflect that becoming a reality. As a result, we often see people getting bits of service offered to them at various points in time. Therefore, things such as fragmentation and inconsistency take place, and sometimes people can fall through the gaps of that process.

Some of you may know that Mission Australia has a strong focus on research and social policy advocacy. In particular, we hold an annual youth survey, which is probably the largest youth survey in Australia. I would like to focus today on our findings from the youth survey, with specific reference to terms e and f of your inquiry’s terms of reference.

The 2009 survey was completed by 48,000 young people between the age of 11 and 24. One of the key questions in the survey was to ask young people what are the issues that concern them. Following are some of the findings. I also want to give you some quotes from the young people themselves. In the survey there is a free text option and, when they choose to, young people can put in their own comments. The issues that they picked up were drugs, suicide, body image, family conflict, bullying and emotional abuse. I want to speak on a few of those.

Drugs were of particular concern for the 11- to 14-year-olds, which is interesting because that is the age group we would least likely think of as being drug users. This appears to reflect both their awareness of the negative effects of drugs and their lack of confidence in dealing with, or being able to deal with, the issues as they arise. It appears our drug education campaigns have increased young people’s awareness but also their fear about the issue without necessarily skilling them to deal with it. This is important when we consider national campaigns around societal issues such as suicide. A 12-year-old female said:

I think peer pressure is something that I’m quite worried about because it makes lots of those things like drugs and alcohol worse. You might say that you won’t be silly with things like that but you don’t know what will happen in different settings when you are under peer pressure.

Suicide was the second area that they identified. A quarter of all age groups, and both genders, indicated that they were significantly concerned about suicide. This does not reflect that they were contemplating suicide but rather goes to their level of concern with the issue. Many young people indicated that they had heard of or knew about a suicide, and the highly connected nature of young people—often via Facebook and other media—appears to be intensifying awareness and perhaps anxiety of the issue. I was listening in to your earlier conversation. A young person in WA could quite immediately hear about a suicide which may have occurred hundreds or thousands of kilometres away, something that was unlikely five to 10 years ago. An 11-year-old male said:

Suicide is going around a lot in our days, so I think something should be done. I don’t know what, but something.

The next area they were concerned about was family. The survey confirms the importance of family to young people of both genders and all ages, but also highlights the deep impact family conflict can have on them. A 12-year-old female said:

I feel that family conflict is a terrible issue that has occurred in my family and it is almost irreparable.

A 13-year-old male said to us:

My mum and dad split up and then my dad committed suicide. I don’t want to go through that again.

The next area they identified was bullying and emotional abuse. There are a number of indications from the survey of the deep and lasting impact of bullying on young people’s wellbeing. A 12-year-old male said:

I think bullying is a major issue because the way kids treat people is cruel and this inappropriate behaviour can cause suicide and death.

A 17-year-old female said:

Bullying leads to self-esteem issues. When you have no self-esteem you do things and things get done to you that can either be dangerous or just demeaning.

Depression and stress was the next area. This issue of concern for young people is mainly amongst the 20- to 24-year-old group followed by the 15- to 19-year-old group. The stress was caused by a number of factors, including more difficult economic times and trying to juggle study, work, family, friends and life generally. An 18-year-old female said:

I know a lot of teenagers are struggling to cope with pressure and stress put on them by family, friends and school and uni. I know how these stresses can cause other problems such as depression and in the worst case suicide.

There was significant awareness of depression as a major issue, the difficulty of talking about it and seeking and getting help. Here are three quotes. The first is:

Unlike the other issues depression, suicide and self-harm aren’t widely discussed, making it even harder for someone to recognise and do something about it if they are a mate or are being affected by any of these issues.

The next quote is:

Too many young people within my life are dealing with suicide and depression, and a lot of them feel like there aren’t many adequate services to accommodate for them or are too afraid to ask for access or help.

The final quote is:

People are afraid to seek help concerning depression. Depression is something that still widely goes unnoticed. Particularly schools and workplaces need more information about the impact that depression can have on a young person’s life and how hard it can be to function normally when the black dog has its teeth around your neck.

What was very important in this particular survey was the question: where do young people go to get advice and seek support? We may make much comment about this when we release this report, because there is a growing perception that young people seek help from magazines and people who are famous—a whole raft of different people. In fact, the overwhelming feedback in this particular youth survey was that they go, firstly, to their friends, their parents and then, secondly, to their family and relatives. In fact, school teachers, school chaplains, professionals dropped quite considerably from that group down and then the famous, the infamous, dropped even further away when it came to young people seeking advice around what they thought were important issues in their life.

Strategies are required to ensure that these groups are the groups that are skilled up to communicate with young people when they have issues of concern. The relative/family friend group is probably not considered sufficiently, but it is an important source of advice for many young people. For example, whilst use of the internet increases with age, only one in three young adults use it as a major source of advice, compared to two-thirds who go to their parents. What are some of the things that need to be done to enhance the wellbeing of young people learnt from the feedback from this survey? The first and overwhelming one was family. Those are the people who need to be skilled up. We need to help their parents, their other family members and friends who openly communicate with young people to create skills, knowledge and ability to relate to them, especially during times of stress in their own family.

The second thing, apart from needing to review current drug education support strategies, especially amongst 11- to 14-year-olds, is that we need to learn the lessons that if we do go down the path of a national communications strategy or education strategy we do not leave, especially young people, left with a message of fear whereby they get consumed with this big thing that they are worried about that needs to be demystified and we need to understand what is going on behind that. That is very important and a strong part of what we can learn from the drug education process that is taking place in Australia.

The third point is early intervention, including supporting those who young people are most likely to turn to is critical, and I have spoken to that. Strategies to ensure that these groups are well placed to support young people through information, skill development, open communication and support to a network or other services are critical. We need peer-to-peer and parent to young people programs as well as those who are also involved in other significant connections with young people’s lives, such as relatives, family and friends. We need other groups such as teachers, counsellors et cetera to think about how they can contribute to developing the skills of the parents, of the friends and of the significant family member. The ongoing development of integrated and youth-friendly mental health services is also required. Finally, our practice and research experience confirms the importance of early intervention strategies for enhancing the overall wellbeing of children and young people. The most effective of these works with all dimensions of a young person’s life and provides integrated, holistic and community based initiatives. Thank you.

Senator MOORE —In terms of the process it seems that there needs to be education of families and friends. That seems to be an important part of the information you received from young people which, frankly, surprises me because, in terms of the interaction we hear about with young people, we think the last people they would turn to would be family. Then we get into the area of people who do not have family. Does your organisation have any ideas as to how you do engage family to talk about these things, in particular parents and grandparents and people who should have that information to talk with kids? One of the things we hear from parents is they just do not know how to raise the issues and they feel as though they are going to push kids away if they want to have the family chat, which is what we used to call it when I was a child. It never worked for me. But in terms of process what other strategies are Mission coming up with as a result of the learning that you got from the survey?

Mr Kyrwood —Firstly, I would like to make a comment that we were quite surprised by that feedback as well. We have not changed the data. It was a survey of 48,000 people and that was the overwhelming response. Maybe we need to get past some of that sort of assumption that this stuff does not happen going forward.

In terms of family engagement specifically, in our children and family process we have an example of a pretty holistic program up at Inala, Queensland, which you might be aware of, called Pathways to Prevention. The principles behind that are about the whole community engaging with the whole family and building that relationship together. Mission Australia tends to play in the space where the clients who come in and spend time with us are probably in the cohort that is not representative in the youth survey, so that is 48,000 people right across the board. Generally speaking, the people that Mission Australia work with have already had some sort of identification with a system that is around of some sort, whether it is a child protection system or a mental health system or a drug and alcohol system. So to build the Pathways to Prevention principles is a bit easier because you are not necessarily trying to encapsulate the whole of the community. Mission Australia is probably overt in the last 12 months with its step into trying to move into the early intervention space and build relationships with parents, and educate as to that, through the changeover or the purchase of child care through Mission Australia Early Learning Services and of course the recently announced GoodStart program, which aspirationally is all about building relationships and the interface where the parents and the children can act together and then provide a whole connected process where we can talk to the family about what is going on in their life.

What we are anecdotally experiencing is that a parent who might come to a childcare centre would, in their busyness, like to know what is happening with little Jenny or little Johnny but there is not the infrastructure to actually create that relationship. I think where that happens is with some of our best childcare centres in Australia. What we are looking at doing is trying to build a structure whereby, you have, if you like, a community engagement or community worker whose actual role is to be engaged with the interface between the family and the childcare experience. That is so that when you build a relationship of trust you can then have the conversations that mum or dad might want to go to someone else to talk about. It might be around: ‘How do I build my relationship, not with the young person or the child or the infant that is in the childcare centre but with my teenage son or my teenage daughter?’

What we are trying to do is identify a relationship with families as early as possible, through child care, and build into that a role which is about connecting the issues that are happening for the family, which take place inside that childcare centre. It can happen through conversation or it can happen through observation of what is taking place for the child during the care experience. So it is about relationship, it is about passing on good information and it is about allowing a conversation over a period of time to take place. What is the big difference in our thinking around that? A lot of information gets given in a pamphlet, it is one way and you do not get to ask questions and you do not get to trial it and find it did not work and come back and check again. The models we are looking at in the early years are around having that relationship where conversation can occur over some period of time, not just in one session.

Senator MOORE —Some of the most confronting evidence that we have had in this inquiry has come from families whose child has committed suicide and they have absolutely no idea why. In fact, they have in some cases, as a result of the pain that they have suffered, gone into a more discursive role, so they go out and they talk with people about what happened, to prepare others for what could be warning signs—but consistently through SPA there are often no warning signs and that is one of the horrors. If you had a little roadmap that showed you that these are the signs to look for, that would be good. But in many of these cases there are none. So within that framework is that something that is actually being addressed within places like yours, to work with families that have gone through this process to see what could have gone wrong and if clearly there is nothing that has gone wrong then working with families who are trying to rebuild their own family post the horror of losing someone, particularly a child?

Mr Kyrwood —I think I made the comment in our opening statement that we do not have specific suicide programs that we are running. Suicide occurs as it does in the community in the life of our community as well. Our programs are built around case management models that see the family engaged. We will continue that process of building a relationship with the family, connecting with that family and helping that family to go through that grief and loss process. I might not be answering your question. That is if you do not mind me taking it another way.

Senator MOORE —That is fine.

Mr Kyrwood —I think some of the solutions as to this, and this is picking up on your other point that it is the families who do not know, concern the families who know how to successfully build that relationship with their children and their young people. What we often do is connect together the people who have gone through the grief and through the loss. We need to work out ways to cleverly connect those who have actually built the relationship—so these are those that we never hear of—who through a relationship have actually connected with their children and who may have gone through a mental health episode or episodes or have a mental health issue and have successfully transitioned through those sorts of experiences.

I think, significantly, parents are wanting to know: ‘How do I build that relationship with my young people?’ We need to offer them solutions that do not put them in judgment. It is like when we do our early years stuff. Again, you do a simple assessment. Research will tell you that a parent will always over assess how well their little Jenny or little Johnny is going because there is a whole lot of emotion connected to that sort of stuff. What we need to know is: how do we champion and connect that, where families are doing it right and are engaging with each other? The majority of this survey, which is across the population, is saying that young people are still going to their parents, to their family and to their friends to get their major support and advice—not even during crisis; just during process.

Senator MOORE —That is certainly not the evidence we have had. That is the first element of evidence that says that. In fact, consistently, just about every other core organisation that has come to us said that, for many young people, that is the last place they go to. For the ones who can, that is great. It really is a remarkable achievement to build a family relationship that is that strong. It is good to have an alternative view.

Mr Kyrwood —The message we are trying to give is that the majority of young people are amazing contributors to our society. Our observation of that comment would be that we often hear about the percentage who are finding it tough. We do not hear about the majority who successfully transition through school. The majority of people actually go through school, go on to full employment and contribute generally.

Senator MOORE —The link I would like to make will not be in this survey because it is one and two in the whole process. Young people have identified through the survey that suicide is one of the core things that is a concern for them and they have identified somewhere else that their family are their source of information. I would like to know how those two things work. If they are already saying in the survey that, yes, it is drugs and suicide, I would like to investigate a bit more to find out if it is that issue. They have said they go to their families. How, when and what response do they get? That is not a simple answer; that is the next step.

Senator ADAMS —I would like to take you back to the 10- to 14-year-olds and the use of Facebook and the internet. How influential do you think the internet is with this group of children, especially ones who are troubled and not able to cope?

Mr Kyrwood —I have a couple of comments on that. There is no doubt that the internet—Facebook, MSN and that sort of stuff—is a highly used communication tool for young people. That can be a positive or negative experience for young people. As for it being a mechanism to connect, get to and educate, I think there is some relevance there, although I often think that the cohort of people that we are referring to—the cohort of people who come through our drug and alcohol services—are aware of the internet and know how to use it but they do not actually participate in the Facebook type of stuff. Their life is in too much chaos and too much crisis for them to engage in that type of activity. They will go in and out of it. It is in their world, but it is not the mainstream. That is up against the image that we have of a lot of teenagers who are Facebooking and communicating predominantly through that type of mechanism. I think we have to separate the smaller cohort of people whose lives are chaotic and in crisis—they may have mental health issues or drug and alcohol issues or a whole raft of stuff—from the larger cohort of people who are just engaging, going with the trends and participating in community life. For them, internet communication is a large part of that activity. What was the second part of your question?

Senator ADAMS —What I was trying to get at was that suicide was mentioned and you commented that, instead of 12 people within a class or a small community knowing about it, the fact is that the users of Facebook communicate with a huge population. It just concerns me a little bit. Are we going into an area where a child may not have been touched by suicide or even have any thoughts about it, then they get into this and read all these stories? Some may be true and some may not be. There are different experiences. We might end up then with the copycat thing. I am just wondering, with such a large survey—as you said, it was 48,000—if there is any evidence of the internet being a tool that somebody who did have those problems would use to follow through.

Mr Kyrwood —There is no doubt that the speed at which communication occurs and how quickly you can be connected means that young people are more aware and connected with what is going on with suicide. Whether that has perpetuated—and I pick up your point about what is the right language here—copycatting, our research has not covered that and I do not know whether the research has got to that. There is no doubt though that people’s awareness of suicide happening amongst young people is greater than when they are more isolated. There is no doubt about that.

Again though, one of the interesting things around where you go for advice is that the internet is where people go as they are getting older, so there is a shift to the internet, if you like, or Facebook as a communication strategy for someone to engage or relate to, or talk about what happening in their world versus a point or place where they go to try to find advice. Our research indicated that that shift started happening once they got to the older age groups—20 plus—when they go off to seek information and advice. It is not necessarily where the younger cohort is going to seek advice about feeling depressed or sad. It is certainly a place they communicate those messages to one another, but it is not necessarily where they would go. That is the interesting data that has come out. It is not where they go. They are still going, as they told us in this survey, to friends.

Maybe what needs to be further researched in that connection with friends is the mechanism to go to friends. Is that a conversation face to face or is it a virtual conversation? They are still going to friends and that is the key. How they communicate with one another, I guess, is a mechanism that changes as time goes on. But it is friends, parents and family they go to for key pieces of advice.

Senator ADAMS —Was the survey done online?

Mr Kyrwood —Online through schools, with hard copies, et cetera. It is eight years old—

Senator ADAMS —As far as rural and remote communities, how have you communicated? Did you get many replies from those areas?

Mr Kyrwood —I do not have the exact breakdown across those, but I do know that in WA, for instance, amongst the 5,000, there were a number of schools in remote and regional areas that participated. One of our key strategies to get the surveys completed is to go to schools and the schools, if they submit 250 responses, get their own data so they can actually break it down and find out what their own cohort of students is saying. So that is a bit of an attraction for schools to pick that up and engage in that and that applies to both regional and remote. It does also identify Torres Strait Islanders and Aboriginal and nationality groups, but I do not have the breakdown of that data. I have the whole report with me, if you would like it.

Senator ADAMS —If we could have it tabled we would be very interested—

Mr Kyrwood —To be honest, it is report that regularly gets used from a youth policy perspective. It is a significant document in Australian life.

Senator ADAMS —As far as WA goes, looking again at rural and remote, how many people have you got working? Are they working in teams? Exactly how are they working in smaller communities?

Mr Kyrwood —The service footprint in Mission Australia in WA does not go into regional and remote Western Australia currently. We are heavily involved in employment. Changes to contracts and the awarding of contracts changed that around. At the moment we engage in areas where we are able to get funding to do those sorts of services, and that is predominantly through government contracts. So we just do not go off and do a new service in an area unless we have either got corporate funding or win a government contract to deliver that work.

Senator ADAMS —So who is delivering that work then at the moment?

Mr Kyrwood —There is a whole raft of services, and I would imagine that a number of those services are the ones that have submitted to your inquiry.

Senator ADAMS —As Mission Australia has got such a breadth of experience across all states, is there any way that you communicate with all these other non-government organisations on issues?

Mr Kyrwood —Yes. We have participated in doing that on a number of levels. Let us start at the bottom level, which is simply around service delivery to a group of people or to an individual, so that is around building a network with a different group of service providers. In fact, Mission Australia uses a tool—this outcome hierarchy—which identifies what research has told us are key areas that we must work with to help people experience a fairer Australia, which is our vision, through our core areas: children and family, youth, homelessness and employment. Research tells you that there are key things you must work on in a person’s life, which I alluded to in my opening comments. If our service delivery is unable because of finances to deliver on all of those areas then we build a partnership with another provider who can build that type of stuff into the service offering that is taking place for a person or a young person.

Senator ADAMS —How is an evaluation of that partnership done, or when is it done? How many years do you let something go as far as a partnership is concerned? If it is three years, the contract is out there. How is that evaluated?

Mr Kyrwood —Evaluation happens for us in a number of levels. One is that we have our internal quality tools which look at what outcomes we are producing in the particular service we are offering. So, if it is a drug and alcohol service, an employment service or a housing service, we have a whole raft of internal tools that we use to measure those sorts of things. And then, as I mentioned earlier, a number of our services—in fact, a large percentage of our funding—come through government programs, so we sit within the framework of a government program being reviewed and assessed. As an example, Job Network is reviewed on a federal level, the outcome is a new structure which becomes Job Services Australia, the whole thing gets tendered for and then you go for that tendering process. That changes where your footprint exists because the awarding of the tender comes from another source.

In terms of the evaluation of these things, part of the difficulty—and it goes, I think, to the fragmentation that we alluded to earlier—is that you have a whole raft of programs, which might be on employment, mental health, housing or drugs and alcohol. We have buckets of funding that come into these processes. We have a whole lot of compliance. We have a whole lot of activity around telling people how we are spending the money, but we are not asking a lot of good questions around how all those buckets come together: are they achieving a better whole? Are they achieving a better outcome?

What also takes place is that, because these things get awarded in different styles depending on how the government or the government department chooses to implement these things, you start going down a path and all of a sudden that gets reviewed somewhere else. You may be a player and then next contract you may not be a player. A new player comes in and has to restart that relationship all over again, often without people knowing why they won or lost a particular piece of business or necessarily understanding what impact that has had on a client group going forward. When we talk about fragmentation, they are the examples of that fragmentation taking place.

An organisation might see a need in a regional or remote community. It may be successful in building a partnership with a corporate, but, if it is reliant upon a government source of funding to come in and do that, it really has a very limited chance because all you can do is advocate, continue to put up that need and hope that what pops out is an opportunity to get funding for that particular program in that particular community. So how you do your needs assessment and how we check these things out is connected to that issue around fragmentation.

Senator ADAMS —Thank you.

Senator FURNER —Just going to the survey results, what were the sex demographics between male and female in the return? We have taken your report.

CHAIR —It has been quite fascinating, actually. We have been looking at the different responses from the different age groups.

Mr Kyrwood —I think we will try and give you a highlight of the issues that came out of the report in connection with your inquiry on suicide. A strength of this particular report is that it does break it down into that sort of tight detail. We try to get away from those absolute assumptions and generic comments. I can best answer your question by saying that I do not know if you are flying back on a plane soon but, if you are, perhaps, if you want to read this and have a look at it, that is the best way to go. I can give you some very quick examples. Eleven to 14, with 23,859, was 51 per cent of the responses; 15 to 19 was 21,000, at 46 per cent; and then 20 to 24 was the remaining 960. There was a 52 to 47 split of gender, with females being 52.4 per cent.

Senator FURNER —Can I just take you to some of the responses you referred to in your introduction, starting with bullying, emotional abuse and, in particular, self-esteem. Were you able to disseminate any information about self-harming and that sort of issue?

Mr Kyrwood —The survey is intentionally not designed to drill down too far. It is designed to identify the issues. From memory, there are only 20-odd questions, predominantly because if you have many more than that then you do not get the participation rate. It identifies the issues. It then causes people to investigate those issues further. This becomes as much an advocacy and policy piece as anything else. A good example there is the Commissioner for Children and Young People in WA, which would use this as a key tool to go away and look at specific issues and ask specific questions. We are very aware that the Office for Youth use this as a major resource to identify where they might go off and do further exploration.

Senator FURNER —The 11- to 14-year-old bracket had an awareness of the fear of drugs. Was that where you were coming from?

Mr Kyrwood —Yes. Amongst the younger age group their concern is not that they are using; their concern is the impact of use. It could be their parents using, people around them using and what they see as use. As stated in some cases and implied in others, there is a fear around this. The attitude is: ‘What do we do about this big beast called drugs? What do we do when it comes, when we are faced with that, if it is not happening for us already?’ Do you understand what they are saying there?

Education has been fantastic. We are not saying that education is the problem. The problem is that it has not gone far enough to equip young people with the tools so that they do not have to be fearful. Often that is about the short, bite-sized bits of information you get about drugs. The education programs that take place in the schools in Western Australia perhaps do not go far enough to have the conversation, especially amongst 11- to 14-year-olds, that asks: ‘How do you feel about what you are hearing? How would you go about dealing with this? What do you do when you see Mum or Dad drunk at home? How do you engage in that sort of stuff?’ It is not getting down to that. It is simply giving a very—respectfully—vanilla, factual education. It is saying, ‘Drugs do this to your system physiologically,’ or ‘The impact on society if you use drugs is this,’ and it talks about violence and a whole raft of bits and pieces. Yet many young people see their parents using drugs without violence, having fun, so it is a mixed message for them.

Senator FURNER —When did you first release the survey?

Mr Kyrwood —Eight years ago. It is an annual survey, and it has been going for eight years.

Senator FURNER —So the 48,000 is from—

Mr Kyrwood —It is from 2009. The 2010 survey is to be launched this week.

Senator FURNER —What changes have you seen in the eight years?

Mr Kyrwood —The overt change over the period of time is where body image falls. Generally speaking, the issues I spoke to have traditionally always been the top issues identified. For a number of years, body image, especially amongst females, was such a large response in the data that it put it as the highest issue, even though drugs came out as the highest statistical issue. When you read the data, it is very important that you cannot interpret drugs, alcohol, bullying or suicide as an overly obvious issue. They all sit around the mid-20s to 30s percentile. We are not talking 70s, 80s or 90s responding in this way. We are saying that 20 or 30 per cent of the group are indicating this. That is where they are getting the common messages from.

CHAIR —Can I go back to the issues around fear. You were talking about not instilling fear. I think I may still be misinterpreting what you are saying. Are you saying that you want to make sure young people are aware of drugs and how they can affect them but that you do not want them to be fearful about challenging others if they are being pressured to try them? Is it about them having enough confidence to be able to say no or to seek help? I am just trying to work out what you mean by it. I am still not quite clear about what you mean.

Mr Kyrwood —What we understand they are saying is that they have a lot of information but they do not necessarily feel that they are equipped to make the decisions themselves or to deal with the situation around drugs, if and when it presents itself to them. So ‘a fire is very hot,’ is followed by, ‘I am very scared of a fire’, not ‘therefore I do not go near it’ or ‘I stay 10 steps away from it’ or whatever. It is a very simple illustration, but it is more that second part that is a strong message.

CHAIR —In other words, they lack the confidence to deal with that situation. Is that right?

Mr Kyrwood —Yes, and that could be because of their age, 11 to 14. It could be that the education is not going far enough to have that conversation with them—that that last part is lacking in what we are implementing. So the linkage we are trying to make is that, when we talk about suicide in our society, we have got to be careful that that conversation goes beyond just information around suicide and where to go for help; there needs to be some sort of engagement around it: ‘What might you do when either you have some sort of thought or something happens in and around your friends or your family? What would you do about that?’

CHAIR —We have only got a couple of minutes left, but I just wanted to ask you a couple of questions about something that has come up quite a few times, and that is how you talk about suicide with young people in particular. People have said to us that some people say—I do not think anybody has actually presented evidence to us of this—that you should not talk about suicide with young people. Youth Focus—and I do not want to put words into their mouth, because they are coming tomorrow—have said at Parliament House, talking at a parliamentary breakfast, for example, that they have been trying to get more education into schools but they have had some opposition from some schools because of the fear that talking about suicide with young people will put the idea into kids’ heads. It sounds like there is a similar sort of issue with drugs. How do you talk about it so that people feel confident about dealing with it?

Mr Kyrwood —Correct. I think that is the other important point here, and it is one of the difficulties, I guess, in our observation and our system. Educators are employed, trained and equipped to be educators, to do the basics of an education process, yet they are a cohort of people who have an interface with young people every single day. The interesting challenge we are putting into this debate is: if friends, family and other relatives are the people that young people tell us they go to, yet the teachers are the ones engaged with them, how do we connect those three groups to get a better outcome? Therefore, if there is resistance from schools about bringing that in because it perpetuates copycatting or whatever might be the case, I think we have got to get way past that and say, ‘This is a young person and we are educating this person, and that education is both an academic process and a life skills process, and we somehow need to integrate those.’ Is it the teacher’s responsibility to be the life skills teacher? Interesting conversation, big debate—some teachers go into that space; other teachers do not. But the reality is that if we have got an integrated community it will happen through that process.

CHAIR —I do not think the evidence we have had today was saying that teachers should be doing it.

Mr Kyrwood —No.

CHAIR —It was more about getting specialist programs. For example, Youth Focus want to get into schools to present the information.

Mr Kyrwood —Exactly. And what we have been arguing is that the program does not happen without the family, friend or a significant other being part of that program as well, because that is when you start building that conversation in the relationship. We often have parent interviews around English, maths, science et cetera—that is my age of language; I know it has all changed now—but we do not necessarily talk about those other issues that might be happening in the interface that is taking place and what we are seeing in the school when we have those parent interviews.

CHAIR —Okay. We have run out of time. Can we get that survey information back from you?

Mr Kyrwood —Certainly. I am happy to send more, or it is on the internet, ironically, on Mission Australia’s website, if you want to look at it.

CHAIR —One thing I did notice is that as the group gets older they are more likely to use the internet to seek information.

Mr Kyrwood —Yes.

CHAIR —Thank you very much.

Mr Kyrwood —Thank you very much.

[2.30 pm]