FRAN KELLY: Yes, suicide, it's one of the most heartbreaking issues that our community deals with, it's estimated that one Australian teenager takes their own life every three days, but the deaths are rarely reported and teachers are often directed in fact not to talk about it for fear of encouraging a copycat syndrome at schools.
Now that way of thinking is starting to change and today the Federal Government will announce it will provide funds for its youth mental health foundation, headspace, to move into secondary schools which lose students to suicide.
Mark Butler is the Minister for Mental Health. Minister, good morning, welcome to Breakfast.
MARK BUTLER: Morning Fran.
FRAN KELLY: Suicide is the single biggest cause of death amongst young people in this country, what will your new program do to try and change that?
MARK BUTLER: Well this particular program targets school communities and as you said tragically on average two or three school-aged Australians die by suicide every week, and historically there has been a reluctance to talk about this but that is changing. It's changing at all levels, teachers are more open to talking about it, parents are more open to talking about it, but probably most importantly of all, even if we wanted to control discussion about it, things like Facebook and other technology mean that students themselves immediately move into a discussion about a tragedy that's impacted them.
FRAN KELLY: So in fact social media in a sense is leading this change in how we deal with it, because we've had discussions on this program a couple of years ago now when there was a fear of a bit of a cluster of suicides within some schools and some communities, that the best way to deal with it was try and shut it down, not talk about it.
MARK BUTLER: Yeah, I'm not sure anyone really believes that's the best way to deal with it now. And so the service that we're announcing today is a specialist crisis outreach service, recognising that school communities themselves - the counsellors, the principals, the teachers and the parents - do need some help to provide proper grief counselling services, other resources that they might needed, but also to be alive to the risk of peer suicides, or as many people describe them “copycat suicides”, and intervening very early to prevent that tragedy from repeating itself.
FRAN KELLY: So what will this new program, the intervention by headspace into schools, what will that do and when will it occur, only after a suicide occurs, is that the idea?
MARK BUTLER: Well that is the idea. And there are a range of other services obviously available either at state level or that we're funding for early intervention for young people in distress, this is I think a long process of building those services. But this particular service I guess responds to a niche need which is a school community that has been impacted by suicide, it's called a postvention response, and the people who will be placed in offices in all states and territories have the capacity to deal with those particular needs.
FRAN KELLY: And longer term a better way to manage this I guess is to make sure the teachers, the school communities have those skills themselves so it doesn't need a sort of a fly-in headspace worker to do the job. Is there a program in place for that?
MARK BUTLER: There is, there's a program called MindMatters that's been running for a few years now, it's got about coverage of over 80 per cent in high schools, and it supports teachers and students learning about the signs of mental distress and what you can do if those signs become apparent either in yourself or among school mates.
Obviously also you know Fran that we're building a range of youth friendly services in the community, headspace services for example, but others as well, that recognise that adolescence and the early-20s are really the danger ages for the emergence of mental disorders, so we need services that young people will feel comfortable accessing if they recognise those signs of distress in themselves.
FRAN KELLY: It's 22 past eight on Breakfast, our guest this morning Mark Butler, the Minister for Mental Health.
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