Experts say the Australian Government’s “zero suicide” strategy, which will focus on Indigenous groups and children, might benefit from drawing on the experiences of Denmark.
Denmark historically had one of the highest suicide rates. But the European nation has flipped the statistics to have some of the lowest rates among high-income countries, according to Honorary Associate Professor Annette Erlangsen, from The Australian National University (ANU).
Writing a recent editorial for Science, Professor Erlangsen outlined Denmark’s efforts to lower suicide rates.
“Denmark’s strategy for tackling suicide was multipronged and spanned many years. But one of the most effective elements was secured through restricting access to suicide methods and ensuring psychiatric care to people with mental disorders,” Professor Erlangsen said.
Denmark’s suicide rate hit an all-time high of 38 per 100,000 inhabitants in 1980. Since 2007, however, the number has remained fairly constant at around 600 deaths each year; corresponding to a rate of 11-12 suicides per 100,000 inhabitants aged 15 years or older.
The suicide rate in Australia has been steady or growing over the past 10 years, ranging from around 11 to 13 deaths per 100,000 people each year, with more than 3,100 suicide deaths in 2017.
“Around 20% of all suicides in Australia are poisonings. It is possible that we could reduce this by looking into what type of drugs are used and whether availability of these should be restricted,” Professor Erlangsen said.
The big challenge, according to Professor Erlangsen, is to reach people before they initiate a suicidal action.
headspace Executive Director, Clinical Practice, Vikki Ryall said “it’s incredibly important that anyone going through a tough time can access mental health services and get support. We know that young people are resilient and, with the right support and tools, they can respond to life’s challenges in a healthy and positive way.”
The 2019-20 Federal Budget allocated $736.6 million for mental health funding, with $461.1 million focused on addressing youth mental health and suicide prevention. This included funding to expand the headspace network.
A Department of Health spokesperson said the Federal Government will establish a new headspace satellite service in Yass which will receive establishment funding at the start of the 2020-21 financial year. It is expected services will start in 2021-2022.
“The South Eastern NSW Primary Health Network (PHN) will work closely with the Yass community to ensure that the new service meets the local needs and establishes links with other primary youth mental health services in the community,” the spokesperson said.
“The service will have a permanent location in Yass, building on a regional network that includes locations in Canberra, Goulburn and Queanbeyan. A second location on the southside of Canberra will also be opening in 2020-2021.”
If you or a young person you know is struggling, they can seek support at headspace through face-to-face, online or telephone services; headspace.org.au or 1800 650 890. You can also contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.