HuffPost is leading a new conversation on suicide in Australia

Photo: Ian Waldie/Getty Images

Today, around eight people in Australia will take their own life.

In a nation spending tens of millions of dollars in a bid to prevent shark attacks, the 3000 people who will die by suicide in Australia every year rarely make front headlines.

As Huffington Post editor-in-chief Tory Maguire points out today ahead of the #StopSuicide Summit in Sydney today exploring Australia’s suicide crisis few other areas of public health has failed to make progress in reducing their death toll. From road safety to anti-smoking campaigns and cancer treatments, the lives lost have been reduced.

The nation’s suicide rate has not dropped in the past decade, so Lifeline, supported by HuffPost Australia and Twitter Australia, will look at the issue in depth today. Despite more information than ever before and organisations such as the Black Dog Institute and beyondblue, current strategies are not having an impact.

Lifeline deals with more than 1 million calls a year and CEO Pete Shmigel calls suicide a “national emergency”.

“It’s clear that what we’re doing as a society right now is not working — and it needs to change,” he said.

The numbers are stark and shocking. Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians between the ages of 15 and 44 years.

The loss of Wallabies star Dan Vickerman earlier this year was a reminder that even highly successful people are not immune.

Here are some other key numbers that reveal the extent of the problem:

    Suicide deaths in Australia are three to four times greater among men.
    In 2015, 75% of the deaths by intentional self-harm were males and 24.3% females.
    41% of all suicide deaths are between 35 and 54 years of age.
    The highest suicide rates are for males aged between 40 and 54 years of age, and over 85 years of age.
    Between 2011 and 2015, there were 413 suicide deaths of persons aged between five and 17 years of age — 233 males and 180 females.

Lifeline’s Pete Shmigel says “there is more to suicide than mental illness.”

And as Maguire points out: “Many employers are prioritising mental health like never before, understanding it’s not just a pastoral issue but a productivity issue.”

And the effects of a colleague, family member or mate taking their life is profound. According to Alan Woodward, Executive Director of the Lifeline Research Foundation, for every suicide 135 people feel the impact.

HuffPost Australia has been campaigning on the issue in the two years since it launched in Australia and Maguire says the response from readers has been extraordinary.

“We had an unscientific hunch there was an audience hunger for it. After all, more than any other social issue, mental illness touches all Australians, directly or indirectly,” she says on her HuffPost blog today.

“But even we were amazed by the response to the Headstart section on our website. On our blog platform we’ve published hundreds of posts about mental health, suicide and society’s pressures. Some from the leaders of the mental health sector, and many, many more from people outside the mental health system.”

It’s involved some brave journalism too, from surgeon Nikki Stamp taking about depression and suicide in the medical profession to HuffPost Australia editor Chris Paine and lifestyle editor Leigh Campbell sharing their own experiences with mental illness.

Paine co-produced a story about his close friend, Nic MacBean, taking his own life, which Maguire says is one of the most powerful stories her publication has told. Video editor Emily Verdouw’s has also explored the effects of the mythology around Australia masculinity have had on the mental health of men.

Maguire says today’s #Stopsuicide summit won’t solve the crisis in a single meeting, but it’s the start of an important conversation everyone needs to be involved in.

“Today’s summit won’t be the conclusion of the conversation — it’s only the beginning,” she said.

That’s why the CEOs of some of Australia’s biggest companies are part of today’s summit, alongside experts and industry leaders.

Maguire says people can get involved in the discussion via HuffPost Australia’s Twitter account using the hashtags #stopsuicide #stopsuicidesummit or they can submit a blog post to [email protected]

The important thing is to keep talking, Maguire says.

“The hunger for shared experiences related to mental illness is strong,” she said.

Read more here.

* If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression contact beyondblue on 1300224636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.

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