Government should embrace target on reducing self-harm

Yet, the strategy of tiptoeing around the topic, believing that suicide is something that only touches other people, other families, or believing that talking about it Frankly may encourage others to follow suit, so endeavoring to cover it up, does not appear to be particularly successful.

If we genuinely want to do something about the number of deaths from suicide in this country then we need to be able to talk about it openly and honestly.

It is not going to be easy. As Matt Berriman, the recently appointed chair of Mental Health Australia, told the Herald: “People need to get comfortable being uncomfortable if they want change.”

Today, Mr Berriman launches a campaign calling on the federal government to set a national target to reduce deaths by suicide by 25 per cent by 2025.

It is not without precedent. Faced with a suicide epidemic, in 2002 Scotland set a target to reduce the suicide rate by 20 per cent over the next decade, reaching 19 per cent by 2013.

In Australia, however, the government has been reluctant to set specific targets, defaulting to the notion that the only acceptable target is zero suicides.


The Turnbull government rejected calls from mental health bodies for a target in 2015. Those calls were repeated in 2017 and 2018.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt still argues today that “zero is the only acceptable target as it recognizes the value of each and every life. Every single life lost to suicide is one too many. ”

This, says Mr Berriman, is an “unrealistic motherhood statement” that minimizes the government’s accountability.

Instead, he believes a more realistic target will provide a necessary goal and reveal whether preventive strategies are actually working. “With mental health,” he says, “My view is there is very little accountability.”

As we report today, it must be noted that the government has not been sitting on its hands, introducing initiatives including the first National Suicide Prevention Adviser, establishing a National Suicide Prevention Office and funding universal aftercare for people discharged after self-harm or a suicide attempt, something experts say is critical in forestalling further attempts.

But the Herald sees no reason why these initiatives cannot exist with a target framework that encourages accountability and goal setting. Put simply, what gets measured has a better chance of getting done.

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