SAVE OUR TEENS
EXCLUSIVE FIGURES SHOW YOUTH SUICIDE WORSE THAN EVER
WA’S teen suicide death toll is at a record high, with 19 teenagers ending their lives in the past year. Suicide is now the leading cause of unexpected deaths of children aged between 13 and 17, a new report shows.
The mother of 13-year-old Perth boy Jimi McDowell, right, who ended his life in February, has called for change to stop the “epidemic” of youth suicide.
WA’S record of youth suicide is at an all-time high, with new data showing it is by far the leading cause of unexpected death among teenagers.
Figures in the latest WA Ombudsman’s report shows that 42 per cent of all sudden deaths of 13 to 17-year-olds between 2009 and 2017 were a result of suicide, much more than car crashes (29 per cent), illness or medical conditions (13 per cent), other accidents (6 per cent), alleged homicides (4 per cent) and drowning (2 per cent).
Last financial year, there were 19 suicides of teenagers aged 13 to 17 reported to the Ombudsman compared to 13 in 2015-16 and nine in 2009-10.
The shocking tally keeps rising despite the Ombudsman conducting a major investigation into youth suicide and making 22 recommendations across four State Government departments in 2014.
The Ombudsman took over responsibility for child death reviews in 2009 and the State Coroner is required by law to notify the Ombudsman of any unnatural, unexpected or violent deaths of children.
Of the 237 child death notifications relating to WA teenagers since 2009, 101 involved suicide — two-thirds of whom were boys, at least one-third were Aboriginal and more than half were from the metropolitan area. There were four youths younger than 13 who took their lives in the past eight years.
Youth Focus general manager of community engagement Chris Harris said the rate of youth suicide was “unacceptable” and at a “critical point”.
“These figures are alarming and we need to reverse them,” he said. “I think we need to wake up to the fact that we need to intervene much earlier.
“That’s not necessarily getting young people to mental health services but it means the people in their circle — family, friends, sports groups, schools — know what to say and how to respond much earlier.”
Mr Harris said a common thread in youth suicide was a feeling of disconnection, not belonging and hopelessness, but he believed good work had started in the community and was cautiously optimistic of positive results within the next few years.
“I do believe we’ve lost our way a little bit but I do believe as a community we have the skills and the knowledge to actually change this,” Mr Harris said, adding the WA Youth Focus service had contact with up to 2000 young people every year, the majority of whom were at risk of suicide or self-harm.
Mr Harris believed a student’s mental wellbeing, including their confidence, communication and self-esteem, needed to be embedded into school curriculums in WA.
WA Mental Health Minister Roger Cook said the youth suicide rate was of “extreme concern”, with the “grief and loss of families affected unfathomable”. He said the Government was working with the Coroner’s office to “understand the factors behind these tragic deaths”.
“The Mental Health Commission is continuing to work with relevant agencies and stakeholders, including the Ombudsman, to address the recommendations made in the 2014 report,” the Minister said.
Mr Cook said since the release of the Suicide Prevention 2020 strategy new services had been introduced and existing services strengthened, including a schools’ response with free counselling, education and treatment.
The WA Coroner has heard confronting and horrific evidence during an ongoing inquest into the suicide deaths of 13 indigenous youths in the Kimberley between November 2012 and March 2016.
The four government agencies singled out in the Ombudsman’s 2014 report have agreed to the 22 recommendations. A progress report will be tabled in Parliament later this year.