The increase in people living in isolation and experiencing loneliness reinforces the importance of true social connection this World Suicide Prevention Day.
The triennial theme for World Suicide Prevention Day is ‘Creating Hope Through Action,’ and the National Mental Health Commission is asking all people living in Australia to make building social connections a regular priority action to combat loneliness and isolation.
“Loneliness is emerging as one of the greatest health challenges we face. We’ve long known it to be associated with higher risk of physical health issues, like cardiac disease and immune deficiency, but it can also be detrimental to our mental health. Loneliness increases anxiety and depression and is a significant predictor of suicidal ideation and behaviour.
“A sense of belonging is a fundamental human need. We must never underestimate the power we have to make a positive difference in another person’s life. We can all take action to offer hope. Catching up with people face-to-face can be so beneficial, as can a phone or video call. Please prioritise regular social connection with your family, friends and community, and if you need professional help, please reach out,” Christine Morgan, CEO, National Mental Health Commission said.
More than two-and-a-half years into the pandemic, levels of face-to-face social interaction have not returned to pre-pandemic levels. The proportion of adults in Australia who met socially with other people less than once a week was 54.8% in April 2022, significantly higher compared with 41.4% in February 2020.[i]
In 2020-21, 15.5% of people aged 16-85 years reported feeling lonely in the previous four weeks.[ii]
Women and young people aged 18-24 years were more likely than other age groups to have felt higher levels of loneliness. [iii]
“Experiences of loneliness and isolation have certainly been a common experience shared with us on the current Connections2022 program which sees the Commission visit 37 communities to hear directly the experience of mental health and suicide prevention systems throughout Australia,” Ms Morgan said.
“Thousands of Australians have courageously shared their experiences of loneliness and isolation which is completely understandable considering the realities and impacts of the past two-and-a-half years; however, we can’t let it be the status quo in our communities,” Ms Morgan said.
“What is also evident is the strength of community. Personal connections and community connections can be such a powerful thing for our mental health and wellbeing. It’s important that people do not withdraw. As uncomfortable as it may feel, please lean in. The strength of your community can give rise to much-needed hope.”
Australia’s national response to suicide prevention is also creating hope through several key actions undertaken for much needed system-wide suicide prevention reform, including the establishment of the National Suicide Prevention Office.
“Australians have many reasons to be hopeful that real progress in suicide prevention is possible. We have seen several important recent developments, including the recent establishment of a nation-wide crisis line for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (13 YARN), the funding of regional suicide prevention coordinators, expansion of adult and youth mental health supports, and governments working together to deliver universal aftercare and postvention services,” Head of the National Suicide Prevention Office, Dr Michael Gardner said.
“But there is much more to be done. We know that the drivers of suicide include a diverse range of co-occurring economic, legal, interpersonal, health, mental health, substance abuse and disadvantage related stressors. It is therefore essential that we change our national approach to suicide prevention to ensure that it spans all systems and settings, covers the full continuum of wellbeing at all stages of life, and delivers supports that are responsive to every individual’s needs in the context of their history and circumstances.”
The National Suicide Prevention Office has commenced work on the National Suicide Prevention Strategy. This will guide coordinated action by all governments and government agencies to reduce suicidality and suicide in Australia.
“The Strategy will provide guidance on the policy settings and systems required to reduce suicidal distress and suicide by improving social and emotional wellbeing, enhancing protective factors, consider, responding earlier to distress, and empowering a connected and compassionate support system that is capable of providing tailored responses.”
[i] ANU CSRM – Mental health and wellbeing during the COVID-19 period in Australia - 7 July 2022
[ii] ABS – National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing, 2020-21 - 22 July 2022
[iii] AIHW – Australia’s welfare 2021 - 16 September 2021