Importance of Mental Health

October is Mental Health month. Concerningly, our local area has one of the highest rates of deaths by suicide, and instances of selfharm, in metro Sydney. There were more than 100 deaths by suicide between 2016-2020 in the Hornsby/Ku-ring-gai area. Nationally, Australia has, on average, nine deaths by suicide a day in Australia; 75 per cent of whom are men. Women are more likely to attempt suicide. Suicide also disproportionally affects Indigenous Australians, with a suicide rate double that of the non-Indigenous population.

It is estimated that every death by suicide impacts 135 additional people. Families, friends and loved ones – like myself and countless others – are left bereaved. They struggle to rebuild their lives in the wake of such loss. In 2020 alone, more than 423,000 people felt the very complex impact of suicide. This is why, as a community, we must talk about suicide, though it’s never an easy conversation. As the Chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Suicide Prevention, and in Partnership with Suicide Prevention Australia, we host a breakfast each year at Parliament House to discuss suicide.

I was proud to have been able to discuss the outstanding work of some organisations in our own community with whom I have worked. Suicide is the leading cause of death for young people under the age of 45. The youth at-risk in our community can find support through YouthInsearch, led by Stephen Lewin, which helps young people rebuild their lives. Thus far, YouthInserach has supported 32,000 young people by providing them group counselling and development programs. I want young people to know they can reach out for this sort of help.

Those experiencing personal difficulties, including thoughts of suicide, can call Lifeline on 13 11 14 for confidential 24-hour crisis support. This support is provided by Lifeline Harbour to Hawkesbury in our community. I recently attended their Sapphire Gala Fundraising Dinner and had the opportunity to thank former CEO Wendy Carver OAM, who approached her work with compassion and kindness before her retirement in July, and to welcome Elizabeth Lovell to the role.

The family law system can be so arduous to navigate that it can on occasion drive parents to suicide. In our community, Parents Beyond Breakup, led by CEO Gill Hunt, supports parents going through this challenging system, offering programs for Dads, Mums, Caregivers and Grandparents in distress.

Mentoring Men, founded by Ian Westmoreland, was set up in response to an event I held in 2017 for community leaders to learn to identify signs of suicide. We know men often find it more difficult to articulate feelings, which is why Mentoring Men provides free, long-term, one-on-one life mentoring for men experiencing challenging changes in their life.

Finally, you might notice a friend, family member or a co-worker exhibiting changes in their behaviour. If this leads you to believe that person might be experiencing thoughts of suicide, the best thing you can possibly do is to ask them directly: Are you contemplating suicide?’ Then, offer an attentive ear and direct that person to the nearest help.