UP IN THE AIR: Federal Minister for Health Sussan Ley has not confirmed federal funding for suicide prevention programs beyond June. PHOTO: MICK TSIKAS
UP IN THE AIR: Federal Minister for Health Sussan Ley has not confirmed federal funding for suicide prevention programs beyond June. PHOTO: MICK TSIKAS

Suicide claims 70 in four years from Gympie

SEVENTY Gympie lives were lost to suicide and self-harm injuries in just four years.

Special APN research reveals the extent of the epidemic in the region during 2009 to 2012.

The shocking University of Adelaide figure comes on the back of Tuesday's Australian Bureau of Statistics Causes of Death report, which revealed suicide was the leading cause of preventable mortality for Australians aged 15 to 44 years.

The ABS said suicide deaths increased 8% over five years.

Suicide costs Australia about $1.7 billion a year.

This figure, contained in a Menslink-commissioned 2013 KPMG report, factored in productivity loss relating to premature mortality, the loss of healthy life years to the country and mental health services costs.

Experts said uncertainty about government funding and a lack of community support services were contributing to the epidemic.

Suicide Prevention Australia chief Sue Murray said the problem could get worse when federal funding for the sector ended in June.

"The existing (funding) uncertainty is hindering the ability of the sector to provide support to those touched by suicide," she said.

"Vulnerable individuals are at risk of losing their support networks and access to quality services."

Central Queensland University mental health academic Dr Louise Byrne said there were not enough support services for people on the edge.

"We have twice as many people with significant mental health challenges - people who may be at risk of feeling that they want to commit suicide - but we have half as many services," the Approach in Mental Health co-ordinator said.

"The ability to access timely and appropriate services is greatly diminished.

''Even in metropolitan centres it's often a battle for people when they are feeling acutely unwell to get access to specialist services, but then once you take to regional and rural areas it's exacerbated."

Health Minister Sussan Ley would not confirm continuing federal funding for suicide support programs beyond June.

"Any suicide is one too many and it is devastating for families and communities," Ms Ley said. "I am committed to working with mental health professionals and communities to reduce the tragic impact of suicide.

"Through a range of mental health initiatives, the Government supports communities to target assistance to individuals and groups identified as at high risk of suicide."

n If you or someone you know needs help, contact Lifeline on 131 114; the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.

AT A GLANCE

Lifeline's steps to saving a person from suicide:

ASK: If you think someone is on the edge, ask them 'are you thinking about suicide?' Make sure you ask directly and unambiguously.

LISTEN AND STAY WITH THEM: If they say 'yes', they are suicidal, listen to them and allow them to express how they are feeling. Don't leave them alone.

GET HELP: Call a crisis line or 000 if a person's life is in danger. If the risk is not immediate, take them to a GP or psychologist to help them get long-term support.

WHERE TO GET HELP: If you or someone you know needs help, contact Lifeline on 131 114; the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.

Speak up and save a life

LOOSE lips save lives.

That's the message from mental health experts who say starting conversations about suicide could stem the tide of deaths in the Gympie region.

Between 2009 and 2012, 70 of the city's residents took their own lives.

While suicide is a complex and costly problem, one of the most effective tools available to our community is free - conversation.

Psychologist Judith Murray said it was important to find the strength to talk to someone who was "demoralised" and losing their desire to live.

"People need to have the courage to take the risk, even if the other person says 'stop interfering'," the University of Queensland associate professor said.

"Say to them, 'I am so worried about you' but don't do it from a blaming perspective.

"Say 'I care about you, I care about what's going on, I'm frightened that something's going to happen to you and I'm not going to play games and pretend I don't know something's going on here'."

Central Queensland University academic Dr Louise Byrne said friends, family and colleagues could be life-savers.

"For everyone who is feeling they might not want to go on with their life, it's about pain," the Approach in Mental Health co-ordinator said.

"They're carrying a whole lot of shame and a whole lot of fear about their own worth or extreme emotional distress. As an individual, as a family, as a community we need to start opening up these conversations."

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