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‘Suicide is an epidemic but we don’t talk about it’

Q&A April 20 2014
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Former Labor Speaker of the House Anna Burke has called on the Federal Government to provide more funding for suicide prevention.

Speaking on ABC’s Q&A program on Monday night, Ms Burke said the statistics were sobering, with 1,025 Australians taking their own lives each year, while there are about 65,000 suicide attempts.

“For every one person who succeeds, 20 have tried. The numbers are daunting,” Ms Burke said.

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“Sadly, all of us have been to a funeral of someone who has committed suicide. I have, and it’s not pretty.”

Her comments come as the Federal Government announced earlier this month a $300 million funding renewal for mental health services, diffusing a brewing crisis within the sector.

The uncertainty caused some mental health services to begin to shut down, as hundreds of contracts were due to end on June 30, 2014.

But Health Minister Sussan Ley said a 12-month extension would allow services to continue to be delivered, while work continued on the current Mental Health Review.

On Monday night, Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre CEO Jane Burns said in response to the Mental Health Review: “We don’t want another advisory group, we are ready for action now.”

“Seven people are committing suicide each day in Australia – we want to shift the statistics,” Ms Burns said.

Ms Burke agreed, saying “suicide is an epidemic but we don’t talk about it”.

She said more funding was needed for prevention and not poured into hospital beds.

“The road toll appears on the front of the paper, but not this,” Ms Burke said.

Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robb had the audience captivated as he spoke about his hidden battle with depression for 43 years.

“The stigma is still there,” Mr Robb said.

“I did really odd things. When I sneezed it would release endorphins, so for 10 years I would drive to work and look into the sun and get hits from sneezing.

“(Eventually) swimming in the bay, classical and jazz music and art in the end helped me (cope).”

Meanwhile, the terror raids in Melbourne at the weekend sparked heated conversation among the panel, with journalist Derryn Hinch partly blaming Australia’s court system.

“When you have a magistrate who lets a man out on bail who has hoped that the next person executed by ISIL is an Australian and done in public – the courts have to take this seriously,” Mr Hinch said.

He also said that local Muslim leaders should have spoken to the community about the extremists attacks earlier than they have.

Mr Robb agreed that it was up to more than just the government and community to get the message across.

“There is a problem, and the leadership of the Muslim community needs to be doing a lot more and looking after this is Australia,” Mr Robb said.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s beer-chugging antics at the weekend was frowned upon by most of the panel – bar Mr Robb –  saying it didn’t do much for Australia’s “drinking culture”.

Comedian and broadcaster Dave Hughes spoke about his own battle with alcohol, at the ripe age of 22.

He is now abstained from alcohol.

“I wasn’t a good drinker and I became depressed because of it,” Mr Hughes said.

“I binged.”

Mr Hinch, who has had a liver replacement, said: “We didn’t binge. I drank red wine because I like the taste of it.”

“That’s because you’re a wan#$r,” Mr Hughes responded.

For help phone Lifeline on 13 11 14, Mensline on 1300 78 99 78, or Kids Help Line on 1800 551 800. 

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