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Monday, 21 May 2018
Page: 4036


Ms O'TOOLE (Herbert) (12:33): I also thank the member for Grey for raising this motion. Suicide prevention and mental health are absolutely above politics. In fact, it is everybody's responsibility in every community when it comes to mental health and suicide prevention. I want to start by saying to anyone who is listening to this speech that if you are suffering or living with mental ill health, I want you to know there is help in your community. Information about crisis support services and links to beyondblue, the Black Dog Institute, Lifeline and headspace are on my Facebook page.

Earlier this year, the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon. Bill Shorten, was in Townsville and together we hosted a town hall meeting with more than 240 people. It was a packed room, with standing room only. After being asked many questions, the Leader of the Opposition asked the audience one question, and that was for people to raise their hand if they had known someone or had been impacted directly by suicide. Almost every person in the audience raised their hand, which was quite astonishing. But what is even more astonishing is the facts surrounding suicide. Lifeline reports that for every death by suicide it is estimated that as many as 30 people attempt to take their own lives. Suicide is also a major concern in my community. The dark shadow of mental ill health has hung over Australia for far too long. The stigma attached to mental ill health is almost as prevalent today as it was 50 years ago. In fact, for many young people, veterans, elderly men—as was mentioned by my colleague, men over 80 are particularly impacted—Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the struggle is getting worse. Social media plays an especially large role in relation to bullying, which has extended now beyond the school yard. The expectations placed on the physical appearance and behaviour of young women and girls, for example, are completely unacceptable.

Before being elected to parliament, I was CEO of a community managed mental health organisation operating from Palm Island to Mount Isa. The community managed sector is more often than not overlooked when it comes to the vital and practical supports that can be provided to people on a day-to-day basis. The community managed mental health sector is both effective and efficient.

Mental health is one of my passions, and since being elected to this place in 2016, I have continued to champion more awareness and funding and access to appropriate mental health services for people in my community. Veteran suicide is one area that has been in the shadows for far too long nationally, but also in my electorate, which is a garrison city. I vowed in my maiden speech to stand up and fight for our veterans here in this place and I have worked very hard with our veterans every day since. Within the first month of being elected I set up Townsville's first Defence community reference group, which includes all Townsville's ex-serving organisations as well as current serving ADF and the RAAF personnel. The first item on our agenda was the veterans and families suicide prevention trial. As a collective, we worked hard on developing the terms of reference for the group, the job description for the project manager for the trial and the appointment of who would be on the steering committee. The group has consistently fed into the development of the trial that is currently sitting with the Northern Queensland PHN. I have been intrinsically involved with the veterans and families suicide prevention trial because I believe that these men and women, who have given selflessly of their lives so that we can live in the freedom that we experience in this country, deserve the very best support that we can offer.

The only way we are going to truly address the distress caused by mental ill health and suicide is by delivering a national stigma reduction campaign. We must encourage people in distress to seek help and support. Time and time again I hear people talking about the fact that they are too afraid to speak about their experiences because of what people might say. Time and time again people feel unable to discuss issues with their family members, their husbands, their wives. This is particularly the case in the veteran community and in workplaces where people are very afraid of losing their job. I would like to think that we in Australia, for the first time, could fund a national stigma reduction campaign that could be as successful as those in Canada, Scotland and New Zealand. That is the only way we will really get on the table the need for people to seek help and feel safe and comfortable to do so.

Debate adjourned.