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Only together can we reduce youth suicide

In 2016, 419 children and young people aged under 25 died by suicide in Australia. That’s greater than the number of deaths in motor vehicle accidents. While we’ve made great progress in reducing road deaths, the number of young people dying by suicide each year is increasing.
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Yourtown is calling on the Australian community to join forces to save lives.

This is an incredibly complex issue and no single intervention is enough. We need a national plan, led by federal and state governments working together with service providers and communities.

Early intervention – greater access to services – support for families – ensuring there are no wrong doors to accessing help – working together. These are just some of the priorities needed to prevent youth suicide.

In 2017, Kids Helpline responded to 10,636 counselling contacts from children and young people concerned about suicide, an increase of 22 per centsince 2012. While it’s great that so many young people are reaching out, we can do more.

Most importantly, we need to listen to the experts – children and young people who have thought about, planned or attempted suicide. We surveyed 472 of these children and young people to inform our position on what needs to be done.

Early intervention is crucial, but we sometimes don’t realise the seriousness of the situation when our young people are struggling. Of those surveyed, 60 per centhad never received any kind of support. Of those that had, only three in 10got help because someone asked if they were OK.One in five didn’t get support until after they attempted suicide.

Young people don’t ask for help because they’re scared of being judged, labelled an attention seeker, or simply being ignored. They’re scared that asking for help might in fact make things worse, so they stay silent until reaching crisis point. While there are signs things are improving –think of all the NRL players disclosing long hidden struggles with depression – we have a long way to go. We need to get the message out that seeking help is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of courage.

Young people want adults to be more proactive. Starting a conversation about suicide is not easy though. A national plan needs to educate families, friends and others so they know both how to start the conversation, and how to respond if the young person says “yes, I’ve been thinking about suicide.” Parents matter, providing crucial emotional support to their children. Just taking the time to listen is important, but it can be hard to tell the difference between normal ups and downs and distress that needs professional support. It’s easy to assume it’s “just a teen thing”or part of puberty, so children don’t always get the help they need, even when they ask.

Importantly, young people told us that professional counselling and psychological treatment does help, but it can be hard to access. Medicare covers the cost of up to 10 sessions a year with a psychologist, barely enough to treat mild depression, and finding a psychologist who bulk bills is not easy. For children, who are reliant on parents for transport and money, accessing services can be especially difficult. Services need to reach out to young people, be available when and where they need them, and for as long as it takes, not as long as the funding lasts.

We need an adequately funded comprehensive national youth suicide prevention strategy. Suicide is preventable if we all work together.

Dr Samantha Batcheloris a senior researcher with yourtown.Contact Kids Helpline at 1800 55 1800 or www.kidshelpline南京夜网.au

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