Following the shocking reports of a recent spike in the incidence of suicide across our region since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I set about establishing some facts so I could publicly raise the issue with the NSW Government and address it.
What really alarmed me was when I heard from Bruno Efoti of the not-for-profit Tradies in Sight that 17 young people, aged between 17 and 24 years of age, had taken their lives in the Dubbo district during the pandemic.
It's not just isolated to Dubbo, they're happening here, too. When I went searching for suicide statistics I discovered that accessing current information was difficult.
Presently there is a one-to-two year lag in statistical data on suicide, due to the findings of coronial inquests required to establish that a death involved suicide.
Queensland have a suicide register, which incorporates data collated by police, health and coroner, which provides more current suicide data. A suicide register has merit and utility in a timely and targeted response.
Last week in Parliament I called on the NSW Government to adopt a suicide register to help improve our state's response to and intervention of suicide.
Any suicide death is devastating and completely unacceptable, wherever it happens, but there are glaring differences in the rates of suicide occurring here in the bush as opposed to Sydney.
Statistics reveal that the rate of suicide in Sydney was 7.8 per 100,000 population.
The rate of suicide for rural and regional NSW was almost double, at 15.5 per 100,000.
Of all NSW Local Health Districts, Murrumbidgee LHD leads the way as the highest reported suicides deaths, where the most latest obtainable statistics reveal 21.5 suicide deaths per 100,000.
Sadly, this comes as no surprise and there is a direct correlation with the lack of services and funding for services in the bush, plain and simple.
The rate of suicide among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, is even higher - 23.7 per 100,000.
The psychological, social and economic impacts of drought, government centralisation of health services and isolation experienced by people in remote country communities all would contribute to health comorbidities, decline of mental health and ultimately to premature deaths caused by suicide.
While the actual mental health impacts of COVID-19 are not yet known, information provided by the Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health indicates projected data shows the pandemic will result in 25 per cent more suicides if unemployment rates reach 10 per cent, and up to 50 per cent more suicides if unemployment rates reach 15 per cent.
The modelling suggests that young people will be among the worst affected with up to 30 per cent of the additional suicides occurring among those aged 15-25 years.
It is also suggested that those living in rural and regional areas will be most affected, due to rising unemployment rates.
There is almost no one who is untouched by suicide; Most of us know of someone who has carried it out or contemplated it.
Coincidentally, and sadly, the morning of the day I delivered a speech in NSW Parliament about suicide, I received a telephone call from a constituent who told me his friend had just committed suicide.
It's a call nobody ever wants to receive.
Let's all be vigilant, always looking out for the people around us and getting them the help that is needed, before it's too late.
Member for Orange Phil Donato
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