General Manager of Advocacy and Inclusion for One Door Mental Health, Dr Ellen Marks shares her thoughts on suicide prevention.
This is the first blog post of what I hope will be many about hope, mental health, advocacy and policy, as well as generally anything I can pass as being related to those issues. Some of the posts, like this one, may come across as bleak but I don’t want that to be the message that is taken from reading these posts. I want people to know there is a tremendous amount of hope; for recovery, to be heard, to be seen and for change. This blog aims to chip away the tiny pieces of stigma that a blog alone can and to send a message to those who have powers to decide on behalf of the population of Australia that we and deserve need change.
My first post is about suicide prevention. A topic the government attempts every year to address, yet fails where they don’t need to and shouldn’t.
We all know the statistics - on average 8 people die as a result of suicide every day, in fact many more people die from suicide in Australia than in car accidents. You would be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t been touched by suicide.
Many people have lost someone very dear to them, I know I have and I am just one person of millions in Australia.
Suicide is at crisis levels yet you wouldn’t be alone in thinking that road toll attracts more attention and prevention measures than suicide prevention. Road toll reduction activities and campaigns have contributed to a 35% reduction in deaths between 2004 and 2013. Reducing the road toll is important work that has been given the right amount of effort to begin to address the problem.
Every week when I drive between Newcastle and Sydney, I drive past many road signs that tell me to slow down, not to drink and drive, to click-clack front and back. This week when I made that drive after a suicide prevention meeting in Canberra, those signs hit me in a different way.
In August I will become a mother for the first time. It’s a little baby boy and I will spend the next years of my life doing everything to protect him. I’ll teach him not to smoke, to look both ways when he crosses the road and a healthy amount of stranger danger - but the fact remains that from the time he reaches the age of 15 until the age of 44 the biggest danger to his welfare is suicide.
We know who is at risk of suicide and we know enough of what works to prevent it (although we need research to understand more). Minister Greg Hunt recently announced the intention to develop a National Suicide Prevention Plan including investment in post-discharge intervention. It is smart policy, and has the potential to decrease the suicide rate by approximately 10% straight away. This is an investment that will pay for itself many times over.
Last year One Door ran a trial of a program called Hospital to Home (H2H). The program was designed to address the issue of high rates of suicide for the first weeks following discharge from an inpatient psychiatric unit. These deaths account for about 10% of the entire suicide rate (although some studies suggest this figure may be higher). Unacceptably, only half of the people discharged from a psychiatric unit receive a discharge plan.
H2H is about peer-led discharge intervention that starts while the person is still in hospital - it’s about making sure that no one goes home alone or to a situation which contributed to their ill-health in the first place, about decreasing a person’s isolation and assisting them to attend follow-up appointments. This simple intervention saw the suicide rate reduced to zero, a dramatic reduction in hospital bed days and the number of re-admissions yet the program isn’t funded. It doesn’t even cost much and the savings for each person in reduced hospital bed days alone is more than twice the cost. The real figure of savings far exceeds this if we were to count the reduction in the economic savings per life saved.
We will follow this space carefully and engage in meaningful conversations about how the Minister’s strategies will change lives on the ground. It’s a big step in the right direction, and combined with other targeted attempts to prevent suicide, we will see change.