​Together, we can change the trajectory of mental ill-health and suicide

26 August 2019

Julia Gillard

When I speak to community groups about mental health, I share statistics like:

  • Almost one in two of us will experience a mental health issue during our lifetimes.
  • The World Health Organization predicts that depression will become the greatest burden of disease globally by 2030.
  • Around the world suicide rates are rising and here, in Australia, we lose eight lives each day while a further 200 may attempt to die.

I do talk about these facts, not to upset people, but to give a sense that mental ill health and suicide touches the whole community, that no-one should feel they are struggling alone.

But I am conscious that some people, on hearing these facts, might feel dispirited by the size of these challenges.  When problems seem so large, there is always a risk that it all seems overwhelming, even unfixable.

Let me offer some reassurance. As Australians we have always been  prepared to face up to big public health issues and look for innovative solutions.  Remember in the 1970s, Victoria become the first jurisdiction in the world to make seatbelts mandatory and proved that lives could be saved when legislators, law enforcement, community campaigners and the public agree on a common cause.

Around Australia, we built on that success, with decades of anti-drink-driving campaigns and improved road safety.

Then, of course, Australia has led the world in reducing smoking rates through sustained campaigns, quit lines and programs, by taxation and pricing, advertising restrictions and plain packaging of tobacco products.

All these big changes have needed the whole community to rally around the cause and a multi-faceted approach.

On mental health and suicide prevention, I think we can now say everyone wants to help and be involved.  In fact, never before has public sentiment, political will, and the mental health and suicide prevention sectors been so aligned in their desire to change the trajectory and overhaul the system.

I have not met one federal, state or territory parliamentarian who is not deeply concerned.

In Victoria, Premier Daniel Andrews has said he will accept all findings of the Royal Commission into the Victorian Mental Health System which is due to file an interim report by November.

The Royal Commissioners have heard powerful testimony from people, family members, first responders and service providers about their experiences and what needs to change.

Nationally the Productivity Commission’s sweeping inquiry is underway.

It has a mandate to look into every corner, at every level of government, and across all of the places and factors that support our mental health, resilience, connectedness and opportunities to live contributing lives.

The Prime Minister is taking a personal interest in suicide prevention and, when he meets with Premier and Chief Ministers, mental health and suicide prevention are on the agenda.

All this activity and interest is terrific to see.  At Beyond Blue, we are advocating that out of these inquiries needs to come a comprehensive, practical plan for change.

But as a community, we don’t need to sit still as we wait for the outcomes of these processes.

On suicide prevention, we can all make a difference by being prepared to talk. That’s exactly what the #YouCanTalk initiative is all about. The aim is to empower people to act as ‘eyes and ears’, to be on the alert for signs of suicidal risk or clues that all is not well in others and to know what to say and what to do, hopefully before they reach crisis point.

Please have a look at #YouCanTalk. Change starts with each of us.

And please remember, when we collaborate and work together, Australians can make the seemingly impossible possible.

We have done it before.  We can do it again.