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Nation’s black dog battle

Opinion Piece

Date : 19 August 2019

Author: The Hon Josh Frydenberg MP

Publication: The Daily Telegraph

It is said in Jewish biblical commentary that if you save a life, you save the world. This is exactly what Lifeline does.

With 11,000 volunteers, 4000 of whom man the telephones, Lifeline receives 2200 calls a day or one call every 32 seconds.

It is challenging but vital work and is why Scott Morrison’s last budget as Treasurer the government provided $34 million over four years to Lifeline.

In one way or another, we have all been personally touched by mental health and those who battle with it.

When I was studying in England, one of my good friends was a lacrosse player from the United States. He was a scholar and an all-round good guy.

I got back to Australia a few years later and was told that he took his own life.

I could not have thought in my wildest dreams that he would be a candidate for the tragedy that is suicide.

Someone else who I work with every day recently approached me and said that for 20 years, he’s been battling the ‘black dog‘.

Again I would never have picked it.

Going in and out of medical treatment, and in and out of that space between happiness and sadness, he’s been asking himself: “Is his life worth living?”

Thankfully, he eventually recognised he needed help and received professional support.

These are not isolated cases. This is something that is sadly happening right across our community. The headline numbers are sobering. Sixty five thousand Australians attempt to take their lives every year.

Eight families a day lose a loved one. If you’re between the ages of 15 and 44, the greatest threat to your life is suicide.

Young people are more likely to lose their lives through suicide than they are in a motor vehicle accident.

If you’re an indigenous person, you’re twice as likely as a non-Indigenous person to lose your life to suicide.

If you’re an armed services veteran under the age of 30, you’re twice as likely to lose your life to suicide as other men of the same age.

But these are top line numbers. What we need to think about is the personal tragedy behind each statistic and what they means to families and communities.

As Lifeline has documented, about 135 people are affected deeply by each person who takes their own life. It’s the child who grows up without a parent, it’s the parent who buries a child.

It’s the workplace where there’s an empty chair, and it’s the friend who loses a soulmate.

That’s the human and painful story of suicide.

So, I’m really proud to be part of a government led by Scott Morrison, which has taken a conscious decision to elevate this issue to the highest level of awareness in our community.

We are working to remove the stigma which the generation before us grew up with when it came to mental health and suicide. In this year’s budget we announced more than $700 million for a range of measures, with a focus on suicide prevention, treatment and recovery.

Prevention, because if you can get there first, you can save lives straight away.

Treatment, because often even when someone sees a GP about their mental health condition, they might not know where to turn and what to do next.

We need more follow up support. And recovery, with care for those who have attempted suicide, because the greatest predictor of suicide is someone having tried to take their life before.

Early psychosis centres, an extension of the Headspace network, perinatal and natal mental health support, mentoring for younger members of our indigenous community and working with the states on an integrated health system are just some of the initiatives we are undertaking.

The Morrison government is doing everything it can to reduce the numbers of people who are struggling with mental illness and getting them the help they need.

One suicide is one too many. But we know we can’t do it alone. This has to be a partnership between communities and government, building on the work undertaken by outstanding not-forprofit organisations like Lifeline.

For 24/7 crisis or suicide prevention support, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit www.lifeline.org.au/gethelp.

Josh Frydenberg is the federal Treasurer and last week addressed the annual Lifeline fundraising lunch in Sydney.

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