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5M Australians impacted by suicide during COVID-19

5M Australians impacted by suicide during COVID-19
Australia’s annual suicide rate (3,318) is currently more than three times that of deaths from COVID-19 (1,012). It’s an alarming statistic, but considering one in four Australians report knowing someone who has died by suicide in the past 12 months (the equivalent of 5 million people), it’s perhaps not surprising either.

Social isolation, the economy and jobs are key drivers of distress, particularly amongst women, according to findings by Suicide Prevention Australia’s second State of the Nation report, which will be officially released next week on World Suicide Prevention Day.

Suicide Prevention Australia CEO Nieves Murray said history showed major increases in suicide were linked to major social and economic events* and there was none more concerning facing Australia than right now.
“Every life lost to suicide is heartbreaking. It’s important to remember that every statistic represents a life lost and a cascade of grief amongst family, friends, schools, workplaces and community groups.”

Legislation is the best prevention against suicide rates increasing, particularly given the major government decisions about economic, employee and welfare to support Australia’s COVID-repair and recovery, says Ms Murray.

“There have never been more lives lost to suicide in this country.

“Australia needs a national Suicide Prevention Act, and we need to act now.

“We all have a role to play in preventing suicide. An Act will legislate a whole-of-government priority to prevent suicide and focus the attention of every agency to address the risk of suicide across our community.”

“Suicide prevention isn’t limited to health portfolios. Housing is suicide prevention, employment is suicide prevention, finance is suicide prevention, and education is suicide prevention.”

Social and economic isolation are the biggest drivers of suicide rates, explains Ms Murray, and COVID-19 has seen Australians subject to 18 months of lockdowns and disruption to their personal lives, employment and businesses.

“We’ve seen how quickly COVID-19 cases can get out of hand, and we need to have the same national policy focus and vigilance to stop suicide rates doing the same.

“The fact an overwhelming majority of Australians support this low-cost, low-risk, low-impact, high-outcome option should be the green light the Federal Government needs.  

“The heightened economic and social threat posed by COVID-19 means we cannot afford to wait to legislate,” says Ms Murray.

Psychologist Deirdre Brandner says she witnesses the impact of the pandemic on her client’s mental health every day.

“The ongoing impact of uncertainty and anxiety surrounding the pandemic is leading to hopelessness. Hopeless thinking can lead to depression and, left untreated, clinical depression and suicide.

“As a professional, I am increasingly concerned about the mental health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting increase in suicidal behaviour.

“The incidence of suicide has definitely increased. It’s a result of increased mental health issues, which are a direct result of the pandemic, but also due to reduced access to psychologists and psychiatrists because of their increased workload.”

Ms Brandner says media exposure is compounding the issue and education and support is vital to reduce rates of suicide.

“To reduce suicides, we need to reduce the stress and fear that accompanies media messages. We need to offer evidence-based advice to manage mental health through social media channels.

“We can’t get everyone to a psychologist or psychiatrist at the moment, but we can do so much through education and support.”

To get help 24/7, phone Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467. If you or someone you know are in immediate danger, phone 000 for emergency services.

* According to the Federal Government’s Australian Institute of Health & Welfare: “While an individual’s reasons are personal and often complex, overall peaks and troughs in rates and numbers of deaths by suicide coincide— more or less—with social and economic events.”

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Haley Williams

Haley Williams has a Bachelor of Communication in Journalism and over a decade of experience in the media, marketing and communications industries.

She is a widely published journalist with a particular interest in writing magazine features on parenting, health, fitness, nutrition and education.

Before becoming a freelance journalist, Haley worked as a writer for NeoLife (a worldwide nutrition company), News Limited and APN News & Media.

Haley also has extensive experience as an SEO Content Writer and Digital Marketing Strategist.