Transcript: SBS News segment with Prof. David Horgan and Prof. Patrick McGorry
8 September, 2023
In the lead up to World Suicide Prevention Day, mental health professionals are saying high-pressure occupations contribute to increased suicidal tendencies. But there are indications that there is inadequate provision for mental health care in Australia. A new app has been released to help combat the situation.
Suicide is still the leading cause of death for Australians between the ages of 15 and 45.
New research indicate that people in high-stress occupations are more vulnerable, with suicide attempts being twice as likely, than those in the general population.
Medical professionals, and those working in high-profile entertainment industries, or financial services are particularly susceptible.
Ruth Limkin, Founder of The Banyans Healthcare says it is important to understand that those who are extremely successful on the outside are not immune to experiencing mental health disorders.
“So, there’s a few contributors to these really sad statistics. You know, partly high-pressure occupations often have really sustained mental emotional and physical effort and very high job demand. And I think there’s also often the sense of I will just keep pushing through, this is what I need to do. And so, we’re really encouraging people to be very aware and to take some proactive action about their mental wellbeing.”
Marian Cartwright, Social Worker & Equine Assisted Psychotherapist says that being constantly faced with high demands and round-the-clock pressure can have negative effects on one’s mental wellbeing.
Ms Cartwright says there are several signs to look out for in yourself or in loved ones that may indicate mental distress.
“Symptoms of prolonged feelings of sadness, loneliness, lack of energy and apathy, withdrawal from regular activities and social interactions. Some behaviors that might be a bit out of character and then a risk taking. Also changes in sleep appetite or really increased agitation. So these are things to keep an eye out for.”
The World Health Organization [[WHO]] estimates that 30 percent of employees in a 1000-person company will have a serious mental health problem in any given year, one will commit suicide every ten years, and 10–20 will attempt suicide.
The body says employers should promote the good mental health of their employees and have a plan to support those with mental health conditions or who may be at risk of suicide.
It says only about a third of workers with depression will consult a mental health professional, physician or employee assistance program for fear a of stigma.
And latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reveals that 52.9 percent of Australians with a 12-month mental disorder did not seek professional help.
Ms Limkin says many professionals with mental health struggles avoid getting help.
“We know from our work at the Banyans healthcare that individuals in really high-pressure occupations or senior executive roles can often struggle to access treatment because they’re concerned about how it might affect their public profile or their professional capacity. And also, they find it hard to find time in their schedule. So that’s why we’re very passionate about creating options for people, whether it’s day programs or residential, because we know and at the Banyans, we’re passionate about reducing barriers to accessing care.”
She adds that many in that category prefer finding treatment options that respect their privacy and accommodate their responsibilities.
But Psychiatrist and Professor of Youth Mental Health Patrick McGorry believes that access to mental health care in Australia is inadequate.
“We are in a situation where only 50 per cent of Australians have access to mental health care when they need it. It’s often delayed, and access blocked. And the quality of that mental health care is well below what we should expect in a rich first world country like Australia if we compare it to say cancer care.”
In the lead up to World Suicide Prevention Day, the Australian Suicide Prevention Foundation has launched a free multilingual app “Prevent A Suicide: What to Say” and website “Hold onto life” to help people provide support to their loved ones dealing with mental health difficulties.
According to the A-B-S, one million Australians have attempted suicide and three million have seriously considered it in their lifetime.
Founder of the app and the Australian Suicide Prevention Foundation Professor David Horgan says there will never be enough professionals to help the number of people experiencing suicidal thoughts.
Mr Hogan says It is unlikely for people having suicidal thoughts to act upon it If they are getting lots of supportive messages from their loved ones.
“It’s designed to be so simple that as soon as people mentioned it to their family to their friends that they wish they didn’t wake up in the morning or they wish they were not alive. All you have to do is go on your phone, go into one of those services. And with one click. You can transfer a text message you think is appropriate, onto your own phone and it goes into the Messages section of your phone. And you can send it as it is or modify it to make it more personal.”
Nearly 40 per cent of the Australian population has been close to someone who has either attempted suicide or died from suicide.
More than 65,000 Australians attempt to take their own life annually, and more than eight of them are successful every day.
Suicide Prevention Australia’s latest report indicates Indigenous Australians die by suicide at twice the rate of the general populations due to experiences of discrimination, historical dispossession, the forcible removal of children, cultural suppression, and exclusion.
It also shows that LGBTIQ people have higher rates of mental ill-health and suicide than the general population in Australia, due to experiences of discrimination and stigma.
Mr McGorry says that considering the extent of its damage in the country, suicide is still too much in the shadows of public discourse.
“I don’t think that the current media guidelines are fit for purpose. And I think they’ve reinforced the shame and stigma associated with suicide by being afraid to talk about it openly. The guidelines superficially say that, that’s okay to talk about it, but then, they discourage, for example, putting the issue on the front page of newspapers. They discourage the use of suicide as a word in stories, and they often reported a death which has been caused by suicide without mentioning that fact.”
Mr McGorry believes that the media should be more open about reporting suicide, the damage it does and how preventable it is.
He adds that it is a major public health problem which should be addressed urgently.
“If we’re going to be serious about suicide prevention, we’ve got to understand the and tackle the social determinants of despair and suicide. In young people, these are getting worse because of the economic predicament and precariousness of life for young people these days, with huge rental costs, House prices, capitalization of the workforce, social media and climate change. These mega trends are undermining the security of young people. “
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