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Friday, April 4, 2014

Suicide in young people should never occur - Ever! So what should we do? (1 Facts and Figures and a challenge)

[This is Part 1 of an ongoing set of posts numbered consecutively]

Last week, I broke a rule that I made last year, while on sabbatical. NO MORE MEDIA. I have been running around Australia for 35 years + doing radio and television, pretending to be important, sitting on various committees, believing I have some influence in the affairs of man. Reporters usually have tight time frames, only so many words to fit into a brief article, and they cut corners, often not fully explaining (or being able to reference) what it is you are trying to say. Mostly you are 'cannon fodder', simply filling a space, hopefully saying something bizarre or outrageous so that they get noticed. This report from the Canberra Times is better quality, but still not totally explained.
So here we go.

This is the article <http://www.theage.com.au/comment/a-different-approach-to-suicide-prevention-20140331-zqp2q.html>, and so much needs to be explained. I want to link it with a report from the Queensland Commissioner for Children showing a sharp rise in CHILD suicide <https://www.ccypcg.qld.gov.au/resources/publications/dcyp/dcyp13.html> (in particular Chapter 6 Child Suicides <https://www.ccypcg.qld.gov.au/pdf/publications/reports/annual_report_dcyp_2012-2013/suicide.pdf>). This needs to be linked to international reports of child suicide (e.g. see <http://www.wales.nhs.uk/sitesplus/888/news/31730>

The context to all this in Australia is that suicides have risen to their highest in 10 years, and the worry is that this will continue to approach levels not seen since 1995-1997, when our national suicide prevention strategies began to kick in. (See <http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/3303.0~2012~Main%20Features~Key%20Characteristics~10009>. You will note that the ABS statistics report ages 15 years and up. Just go back to the Qld. Commission for Children for a moment. In 2012 there were 22 deaths reported, of which 12 were in the age group 10-14 years. In the year before (2011), there was one child aged 9 who suicided. I am certain it was suicide; I read the case file. Where are these suicides reported in the Australian Bureau of Statistics figures? Well, they are not. No wonder this outrage is not getting national attention.

To paraphrase what I was quoted as saying in the Canberra Times report: "You will not fix this by spraying around antidepressants". We don't often get to see these children before they die, and we would be very wary of prescribing antidepressants for such young children.
So what is there to do? I am going to begin by picking on schools...

Almost all Australian children go to school. They are with professionally trained teachers all day. OK, I hear the argument... "Teachers are there to teach, not prevent suicide!!!" Wrong. We are ALL there to prevent suicide. If we are spending any time with young people, whatever our context, it behoves us to at least be aware when they are struggling AND THEN DO SOMETHING.
Oh, actually I have a better argument. If the ultimate goal of education is learn, then we need to acknowledge that the evidence is very strong that resilience building programs in schools - that is social and emotional learning programs - enhance the learning outcomes. Confident, resilient kids who are connected to schools, have better learning outcomes. You want your school to be successful in the learning outcomes competition? Make sure you have programs in place to develop confidence, resilience and connectedness.
More tomorrow...

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