SAVE OUR TEENS

EX­CLU­SIVE FIG­URES SHOW YOUTH SUI­CIDE WORSE THAN EVER

The Sunday Times - - FRONT PAGE - KATE CAMPBELL

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.

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