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Working towards united steps in Suicide Prevention Reform

08 Jul 2021

Since 2013, the Albury community has united annually for its winter solstice, to shine a light on the darkest night, on suicide. For those we have lost to suicide and those who are at risk.

Initiated by locals Annette and Stuart Baker, after they lost their 15-year-old daughter Mary to suicide, the Albury winter solstice event calls for and demonstrates how to have candid and destigmatising conversations around suicide and mental ill-health in the community, and to work collectively to not only raise awareness but also reach out to those in need of support.

On June 21, I was fortunate to join Mary and Stuart and the Albury community on the darkest night of the year, to hear the locals share stories, support one another, and remember loved ones.

Braving the winter cold, people shared the devastation caused by the loss of a loved one to suicide, and the personal pain of suicidal ideation.

In their pain and their commitment to making a difference, there was a collective clarion call for change to happen now. Whatever it takes, they said, we need our local, state and commonwealth leaders to act in unity.

The World Health Organisation recently released its Live Life Guide– An implementation guide for suicide prevention in all countries, which strongly aligns with our National Suicide Prevention Final Advice, a critical piece of research accepted by the Prime Minister in April and acted upon in this year’s Federal Budget.

One of the six key pillars in the WHO’s Live Life Guide is the need for a whole-of-governments approach to achieve earlier distress interventions. The first of eight key recommendations of the National Suicide Prevention Final Advice is the exact same thing.

What does ‘earlier distress interventions’ mean? It means we must not wait until people are in crisis. Those with lived experience whose voices are heard throughout the Final Advice say their journeys began way before the point of crisis.

It means we need to reach people where they are, we need to provide them with answers and support in their own communities, and we need to ensure they are connected to others and that they have hope.

This will only be achieved by all of us reaching out to those within our communities and our networks, compassionately and with a real desire to help.

More so, it will only be achieved by early distress interventions being an immediate focus of our governments, all of them – local, state and federal.

All eight recommendations of the National Suicide Prevention Final Advice are just that – recommendations – until they are completed. The 27 priority actions beneath them – including establishing a National Suicide Prevention office in 2021, strengthening and resourcing universal regional arrangements, and identifying national actions for priority populations – also need to be put into effect immediately.

The WHO’s recognition demonstrates that Australia continues to take important steps forward in our suicide prevention reform, and the connections made by those in Albury show that Australians are ready and willing to own our nation’s suicide prevention approach.

The steps we take continue. Over the coming months, the Commission looks forward to engaging with government representatives and in-community system leaders and service providers across Australia to provide an in-depth overview of the Final Advice and discuss the possibilities for the alignment of current commitments and the implementation of recommendations. We are planning to engage with relevant representatives from health, justice, law enforcement, emergency services, housing, education and training, and community and social services to connect them to the ways in which early in distress or preventative measures in their areas can play a role.

Hope is our critical connector. I am genuinely filled with hope that together, across governments and Australian communities, we can all make a difference, and reduce the number of those we lose to suicide.