Encouraging news emerged from Australia last month when the government announced its intention to radically change the country’s suicide-prevention strategy. In keeping with the draft report of Christine Morgan (Suicide Prevention Advisor), there will be a shift away from viewing suicide as primarily a consequence of ‘mental illness’, broadening the focus to emphasise the importance of community cohesion and social networking.
Across the Western world, the medicalised approach to suicide, led by suicidology ‘experts’, has failed (see previous blog) and Australia – not usually regarded as a hotbed of innovation in its approach to human suffering – could be leading the way with the adoption of a revolutionary new paradigm to tackle the problem.
On the 30th January 2020, Greg Hunt (the Health Minister) published a report announcing a $64 million investment in a range of community-focused initiatives. Specifically, the new blueprint will involve: a much greater utilisation of the knowledge of suicide survivors in the development of services; the broadening of responsibilities for the suicide-prevention effort away from health; early intervention for those at risk; and a greater focus on reducing financial, social and employment stressors.
Hopefully, these worthy intentions will translate into the following concrete improvements:
- Expansion of peer support, predominantly offered by those with lived experience of suicidal crises (rather than the ‘treatment of mental illness’);
- Immediate access to crisis houses, staffed mainly by suicide survivors, for all those requiring respite (rather than admission to hospitals and other medicalised facilities);
- Suicide survivors at the forefront of future developments, including research, planning, delivery and evaluation (rather than ‘expert’ mental health professionals fulfilling these roles);
- Enhancement of the general wellbeing of the population via policies to tackle deprivation, poverty, loneliness, adversity and other societal ills (rather than a health-dominated approach peddling the ‘illness like any other’ mantra).
Of course, there is a real risk that the worthy aspirations detailed in a draft report fail to materialise, neutered by a pincer movement between the powerful psychiatric profession and a neoliberal government. Minister Hunt’s statement that the next step will be ‘to canvas early findings with the sector and all interested stakeholders’ clearly indicates there will opportunities for the biomedical lobby to dilute, assimilate and co-opt Christine Morgan’s innovative proposals. Here’s hoping that the recommendations in the draft report survive this consultation process relatively unscathed and are translated into actions.