There’s light on horizon in arresting suicide toll

Isn’t it alarming that as Mental Health Week gets underway, suicide is still the number one cause of death of young people under 18 years of age?

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 59 children were lost to suicide out of a total of nearly 400 Western Australians who took their own lives in 2015.

That’s nearly 400 families, schools or workplaces, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters who are now trying to cope with the abject grief of their unnecessary and preventable loss.

The increasing rates of suicide are concerning and more action needs to be taken.

However, there is light on the horizon.

During the eight months I have been with Youth Focus, I have heard many stories about the journeys of young people on their way to mental health recovery.

But perhaps the story that has touched me the most is that of a young woman who endured unimaginable severe physical and emotional traumas from a very young age.

This remarkable young woman – with our help – is now enrolled in a human services degree because she wants to devote her life to making a positive and lasting difference to others.

It is an inspirational and courageous story which demonstrates the determination, resilience and compassion shown by many of Youth Focus’ 12 to 25 year-old Western Australian clients who need help with their mental health issues.

Importantly, this story highlights that early intervention is critical – the earlier that mental illness can be identified in young people the more likely they can progress to becoming resilient adults.

And the fact is that every week is Mental Health Week for the approximately 500,000 Western Australians living with mental illness.

For those who develop a mental illness, around 75 per cent of them will do so before their 25th birthday because, unlike many other illnesses which develop later in life, mental illness tends to present during youth.

Regrettably, only a small proportion will seek the professional help that they need at the time they need it.

Mental Health Week is a time to focus not only on the challenges of mental illness, but also on the opportunities to talk openly and safely about mental health and to encourage those who would benefit from help – including carers of people with a mental illness – to seek the professional assistance and advice that will make a positive difference.

Research has demonstrated that, when someone takes the all-important step to reach out and seek help, their risk of suicide decreases dramatically and their likelihood of recovery increases markedly.

We know the message is getting through: each year, more and more people are connecting with professional care, more and more schools are engaging with mental health as part of their programs, and more and more workplaces are making positive inroads to supporting their employees who have a diagnosed mental illness.

In fact, this year our counsellors will support more than 2,500 young Western Australians in their hour of need.

Since 2000, we have worked with more than 18,000 of our youth and only one of those has lost the battle to suicide.

With a clinically proven and accredited practice model, Youth Focus does make a positive difference to young people in our State.

But it is not enough.  Suicide remains the leading cause of death for Western Australians aged up to 44.

Put simply, this is unacceptable and all of us – government, organisations, communities, families and individuals – have a role to play in reversing this trend.

As a society we can no longer tolerate stigmas around mental health especially name-calling which only serves to demonise the subject, and can have a profoundly detrimental effect on someone who has, or thinks they might have, a mental illness.

For my part, this Mental Health Week, I am committing to sharing openly, safely and responsibly the importance of good mental health and emotional wellbeing.

Together, we have a responsibility to create emotionally resilient communities for our future generations and – in doing so – reduce the insufferable toll of suicide in Western Australia.

Fiona Kalaf, Chief Executive Officer, Youth Focus

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