Around one-fifth of emergency ambulance callouts in Victoria, Queensland, New South Wales, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory combined are related to self-harm, poor mental health or substance misuse, new research has found.
The findings from drug research centre Turning Point were released on Thursday to coincide with world suicide prevention day and ‘R U OK’ day, and provides a striking picture of the impact of mental health issues in the community.
Data was collected from each of the jurisdictions over a four-month period in 2013 – except in Victoria, where 12 months of data was collected – capturing 80% of the Australian population.
Of 500,000 cases reviewed, paramedics attended 512 deaths related to suicides, accidental overdoses or fatal overdoses with unknown intent. Paramedics also responded to 11,211 suicide attempts, 4,413 self-injury cases, and 11,395 depression-related incidents.
December alone saw 1,470 self-harm-related ambulance attendances in Victoria, 1,744 in New South Wales, 1,632 in Queensland, approximately 91 in Tasmania and 68 in the ACT.
The paper’s lead researcher, Belinda Lloyd, said it was the first time detailed and robust data that identified and monitored patterns and characteristics of acute self-harm and mental health cases had been collated nationally.
“These figures are striking in terms of the magnitude of mental health problems, suicidal behaviour and overdose which our health services are facing,” Lloyd said.
“So we’ve made the findings publicly available because it’s really important that we have timely and detailed information on mental health and its impact on the community to start a detailed discussion on how to address it.”
Pat McGorry, professor of youth mental health at the University of Melbourne, said the findings meant the creation of mobile community response units, staffed by specialists who could respond to mental health crises, was urgent because paramedics and police could not be expected to cope with such high demand.
“But no one is prepared to fund this type of service,” McGorry said.
“We [frontline workers] are getting a bit fed up with it. These people need a functioning community mental health system to support them.”
The federal health minister, Sussan Ley, said the research revealed the complexity of addressing self-harm in the community as well as the importance of ensuring people had ongoing support when released from hospital.
“I’m very aware that when someone is released from hospital they can very easily fall through the cracks, and that many of the people responded to by our medical professionals, whether in emergency departments or by ambulance services, are actually known to the system,” Ley said.
“The fragmented nature of help for patients has to be addressed, and a system that works for patients who leave hospital no support and nowhere to go has to be fixed.”
On Thursday morning, Ley invited peak suicide prevention and awareness groups to parliament house as she launched world suicide prevention day for this year.
The coalition of organisations, led by Suicide Prevention Australia, presented Ley with their National Research Action Plan for Suicide Prevention, which calls on the federal government to invest $12m immediately into establishing an alliance of researchers, policy makers, and service providers tasked with identifying suicide research priorities.
Ley told Guardian Australia she would not rule the funding in or out and that she would need to review the plan before committing to any of the recommendations.
However, her focus over the next few months would be to respond to the National Mental Health Commission’s independent review of mental health programs and services by the end of the year, she said.
Among the findings from the commission’s major review was that mental health funding from the commonwealth was neither effective nor efficient, and that community-based and primary health mental health services required urgent funding.
In parliament’s question time on Thursday, the opposition leader, Bill Shorten, said approximately 400,000 Australians considered taking their lives each year. About 2,500 did so, he said.
“It takes a devastating toll on communities in rural and regional Australia,” Shorten said.
“All of us have known, loved and mourned someone who has taken their own life, and so often these deaths come as a complete shock to even the closest of friends and family members.
“We say to each other that ‘we could never have guessed’, that there was no way to know. But there is, actually – just ask.”
To read the full article, please click the following link: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/sep/10/mental-health-linked-to-one-fifth-of-emergency-ambulance-callouts