Commonwealth response to 'The hidden toll: suicide in Australia'

5. Reducing stigma and raising awareness

Page last updated: 2010

The Senate Committee raised issues and concerns on the effectiveness of public awareness programs and their relative success in providing information, encouraging help-seeking and the related issues of the community stigma and the media reporting of suicide. In this Response, the Australian Government outlines its strong focus on promotion, prevention and early intervention across a range of portfolios, and highlights the continued investment in stigma reduction and the promotion of the help seeking behaviours at a population level and for high risk groups.

Recommendation 17
Recommendation 18
Recommendation 19
Recommendation 22

Recommendation 17

5.92 The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth government fund a national suicide prevention and awareness campaign that provides information to all Australians about the risks and misconceptions of suicide, and advice on how to seek and provide help for those who may be dealing with these issues.

This campaign should utilise a range of media, including television, radio, print and online, and other methods of dissemination in order to best reach the maximum possible audience. This campaign should also create links with efforts to alleviate other public health and social issues, such as mental health, homelessness, and alcohol and drug use.

Recommendation 18

5.93 The Committee recommends that the development of a national suicide prevention and awareness campaign should recognise the risks of normalising and glamorising suicide, and draw on wide consultation with stakeholders and a solid evidence base.

Recommendation 19

5.94 The Committee recommends that a national suicide prevention and awareness campaign, once developed, should operate for at least 5 years, and with adequate and sustained resources. This should include the provision of additional resources, support and suicide awareness training for health care professionals.

Recommendation 22

5.105 The Committee recommends that a national suicide prevention and awareness campaign should include a targeted approach to high-risk groups, in particular young people, people in rural and remote areas, men, Indigenous populations, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people and the culturally and linguistically diverse communities. This approach should include the provision of culturally sensitive and appropriate information and services.Top of page

Response

The Australian Government supports these recommendations with qualification.

As articulated in its submissions to the Senate Inquiry, the Government funds a number of activities that reduce the stigma of suicide, raise awareness of suicide prevention and the support available and encourage help seeking. In the absence of substantial international and national evidence, and in light of a lack of consensus in the suicide prevention sector and among experts in the field, the Government is not convinced that a national, multi-media social marketing campaign is the best way to provide this targeted information.

The Government acknowledges the tension between a need for increased awareness and knowledge about suicidal behaviour, and a need to maintain duty of care in the way suicide is reported, discussed and communicated to minimise risk to vulnerable individuals. A further challenge is getting the balance right in allocating resources to suicide prevention between upstream population health approaches and more targeted efforts to provide services and support to individuals most at risk.

The emotional, social, health, genetic and environmental factors that result in an individual experiencing suicidal thoughts and behaviour vary enormously, and the causes and precipitating factors for every individual suicide are likely to be different. However there are well recognised risk factors for suicide, and conversely, evidence based protective factors which reduce the likelihood of suicide for individuals and across the population. Sustained and multi-pronged education and awareness activities, based on these accepted risk and protective factors, can encourage help seeking behaviours.

The Australian Government will continue its focus on promotion, prevention and early intervention. A range of currently funded activities, including beyondblue: the national depression initiative, are raising awareness, breaking down stigma, promoting mental health literacy and encouraging help seeking through a number of grass roots and national social marketing activities.

The Mental health: Taking Action to Tackle Suicide package will provide an extra $9 million over four years to beyondblue for Targeted campaigns for men's mental health. These campaigns will target men at heightened risk of suicidality and mental illness, including single men, fathers, older men, unemployed men, men living in rural Australia and Indigenous men.

The LIFE Communications project supports improved communication and capacity in relation to suicide prevention efforts and provides a national repository of readily available information and resources via the LIFE website (www.livingisforeveryone.com.au), including on NSPP promotional and marketing activities and workshops on how to conduct evaluations of suicide prevention projects.

The Government uses satellite and local radio broadcasting to provide 24 hour suicide prevention, mental health and well-being messages via over 270 radio stations nationwide through the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia. Targeted messages focused on help-seeking and positive lifestyle choices are delivered to a wide and diverse network of communities, including a large number of Indigenous, rural and remote, and culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

Other significant Government funded community awareness activities include:
  • Support for World Suicide Prevention Day and RUO K? Day, a public awareness event which takes a whole of community approach to encourage Australians to connect with one another. RUO K? Day encourages public discussion of social isolation and its negative consequences, such as suicide.

  • As part of Government's commitment to improving the mental health of the veteran community, the At Ease mental health awareness campaign (including suicide prevention) was launched in May 2008. The Department of Veterans' Affairs is currently developing a comprehensive campaign to better integrate and publicise the range of current and proposed initiatives and increase mental health literacy around depression, anxiety, alcohol use and suicide prevention, as well as increasing awareness of the special needs of veterans amongst health providers. It is anticipated that the campaign will be conducted in 2011–12.

  • headspace runs a number of community awareness and marketing activities to reduce stigma and to promote help seeking behaviour, in young people aged 12–25.

  • The National Eating Disorders Collaboration brings together eating disorder experts in mental health, public health, health promotion, education and research.

  • The MindMatters and KidsMatter school programs provide resources for classroom use, training for teachers, support for school leadership to increase students' awareness of mental illness, reduce stigma and increase help-seeking behaviours.

  • The ResponseAbility Teacher Education initiative increases the coverage of mental health promotion, prevention and early intervention principles in the pre-service education of preschool, primary school and secondary teachers at university, and initial training of early childhood workers in the TAFE /VET sector.

  • A large proportion of individuals with substance use issues have co-existing mental health issues and are at a higher risk of suicide and accidental death. The 2010 Budget announced $21 million in funding over four years for the continuation of the National Drugs Campaign which aims to reduce the uptake of illicit drugs among young Australians by raising awareness of the harms associated with drug use and encouraging and supporting decisions not to use.
These activities align with Action 1 of the Fourth National Mental Health Plan – "Improve community and service understanding and attitudes through a sustained and comprehensive national stigma reduction strategy".

Top of pageThe Government will continue to review the evidence base in relation to these recommendations.

beyondblue campaign flyer


beyondblue campaign flyer targeting men. Text description below.

Source: beyondblue

Text description of beyondblue campaign flyer targeting men.
The flyer features three images:
  • An older man, with text overlaid: "I didn't want people to think I was weak. I'm a man and men don't get depression."
  • A younger man holding a football, with text overlaid: "I had no energy. I didn't give a stuff. I didn't know it was depression."
  • An indigenous man, with text overlaid: "When you're growing up you're told you have to be the strong one. But depression doesn't care."
The flyer also includes beyondblue contact details: "To find out more visit our website or call the info line. 1300 22 4636. beyondblue the national depression initiative. www.beyondblue.org.au."

Department of Veterans' Affairs campaign flyer


Department of Veterans' Affairs At Ease mental health awareness campaign flyers. Text description below.

Source: Department of Veterans' Affairs

Text description of Department of Veterans' Affairs At Ease mental health awareness campaign flyers.
The image shows two flyers with identical messaging: "Good mental health is vital to your health and wellbeing. Put your mind at ease. Recognise > Act > Maintain."

The first flyer features a young female in camouflage. The second flyer features an elderly male and female, with the focus of the image on the male.

Both flyers include Department of Veterans' Affairs contact details: "Talk to your doctor or health professional. For more information call DVA on 133 254 or VVCS - Veterans and Veterans families Counselling Service on 1800 011 346."