Mental Health Australia chair Matt Berriman calls for national 2 per cent suicide reduction target

A Resolve poll found one-in-four 16 to 24-year-old Australians had thought about suicide over the past two years and 15 per cent had attempted self-harm.


Mr Berriman said the federal government’s lack of accountability on mental health and a suicide reduction target would determine whether preventive strategies were working.

“I come from a business background where you have KPIs, but with mental health my view is there is very little accountability,” he said.

He pointed to Scotland, where in 2002 the government set a target to reduce the suicide rate by 20 per cent over a decade to 2013. It achieved an overall 19 per cent reduction.

“A target is the first pillar of saying mental health needs a change, it needs accountability: 3139 lives is way too many.”

But Health Minister Greg Hunt said every single life lost to suicide was one too many.

“Our government recognizes the devastating impact it has on individuals, families and communities, and is committed to working towards zero suicides,” they said.

“Zero is the only acceptable target as it recognizes the value of each and every life.”

Suicide Prevention Australia chief executive Nieves Murray said the Peak body did not support targets as they distracted from the real issue.

“We need action, not accounting. It’s time to implement the reforms we know save lives not to go back to the drawing board on a figure, ”Ms Murray said.

“There is a risk that targets may simplify a very complex issue such as suicide prevention.”

But Mr Berriman got a target of zero was an “unrealistic motherhood statement” to a zero road toll.

“Towards zero is where the government goes because they want to avoid accountability,” they said.

“What the government is doing isn’t working – over the last decade the suicide rate has gone up. The government continues to publish report after report, and there’s no accountability, and there’s no implementation plan. “

Beyond Blue would not comment on a target, but chief executive Georgie Harman welcomed Mental Health Australia’s “rallying cry for Stronger accountability and transparency”.

A Lifeline spokesperson said: “Our vision is of an Australia free of suicide, and we remain committed to working towards zero suicides.”

Alongside a suicide prevention target, Mental Health Australia is calling for key actions to drive suicide numbers down.

Key actions

  • Campaigns to tackle the stigma around mental health and suicide
  • Target high risk groups including Indigenous, LGBTQI + and culturally diverse people
  • Develop a men’s suicide prevention strategy
  • Address urgent mental health workforce gaps
  • Make suicide prevention training as common as CPR or first-aid
  • Increase telehealth and youth on-line support
  • Leaders with lived experience to develop and deliver services

Mr Hunt said the government had funded several key initiatives in suicide prevention, including funding universal aftercare for people discharged after self-harm or a suicide attempt.


He said that in 2020 there was a 5.4 per cent reduction in Suicides compared to 2019. However, over the previous 10 years the suicide death rate had increased by 15.2 per cent.

Mr Berriman got telling his story would take a personal toll, but he believed it was critical to the challenge of the stigma surrounding mental health and suicide.

“The amount of people who have told me about personal experiences but are too ashamed or fearful to talk about it to anyone else is astounding,” he said.

“I thought: ‘Well if I am the chair of Mental Health Australia and I can’t be Authentic and tell my story, how do I expect anyone else to be honest’?”

He celebrated his father’s 75th birthday a couple of months ago, is about to announce a venture capital fund and is back doing the things he loves.

“I have a lot of Joy in my life, where back then I didn’t. I’m one of the Lucky ones that got a second chance at it.

“What I’m trying to instil is that there’s a better life on the other side if you get through it, so stay with us.”

Support is available from Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467, Beyond Blue is 1300 22 4636 and Lifeline is 13 11 14.

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