House debates

Thursday, 20 September 2018


Cunningham Electorate: Mental Health

4:39 pm

Photo of Sharon BirdSharon Bird (Cunningham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Suicide rates in my region, very sadly, remain higher than the New South Wales average, with 40 to 60 suicides reported each year. I just want to take the opportunity today to talk about the very critical, important work that is being done by organisations and individuals in our region to address this problem. First of all, I want to acknowledge the Illawarra Shoalhaven Suicide Prevention Collaborative. This was established three years ago this month. It consists of representatives of more than 20 local community organisations, which include the local health district; the University of Wollongong; the Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute; Grand Pacific Health; Lifeline Southcoast; COORDINARE, the South Eastern New South Wales Primary Health Network; all four local councils; and all education sectors.

Last year in September, they were successful in becoming the fourth trial site for the Black Dog Institute's LifeSpan trial. This is a program that combines evidence-based suicide prevention strategies into a single community-led approach. Dr Alex Hains, who is the regional manager of the collaborative, described how important that was. He said:

Suicide prevention is everyone's business, and so we want everyone in the community to understand what role they can play in reducing suicides, and to feel confident to play that role.

He outlined the question, persuade and refer training, which is a one-hour online course designed to help people recognise warning signs for suicide and to help others. It only costs $10, and the New South Wales health minister has provided 1,000 free licences.

Local business Internetrix has purchased some of these licences for its entire team in Wollongong. The managing director, Daniel Rowan, told the Illawarra Mercury about how important that was to his organisation:

… Internetrix is more than happy to support the campaign, and it also fits in with our mission statement and values which focus on caring for our people.

I want to acknowledge One Door Mental Health Illawarra. This is a small group of businesspeople who have been raising funds for more than a decade for the Light and Hope Clubhouse and, more recently, a program to support teenagers in our region who care for their parents with mental illness. For the last two years, they have held highly successful mental health in the workplace luncheons with speakers from across the area, including people with direct personal experience and organisations, which have been very successful. This will be held again in October this year. Unfortunately, I can't attend, but I'm sure it will be very successful. All the money raised at the luncheon goes towards supporting the Light and Hope Clubhouse and the support program for teenagers.

Due to growing demand, the clubhouse will soon relocate to Auburn Street in Wollongong and will open five days a week rather than the current two days a week. I should acknowledge that this has been made possible by a half-million-dollar donation from the family of a former chairman of the organisation, the late Dr John Hogg. The Light and Hope Clubhouse doesn't receive state or federal funding, yet it's raised more than $1.7 million towards this program. I want to commend the whole team and in particular the committee chair, Professor Frank Deane, and the deputy chair, Janine Cullen.

There are many individuals doing fantastic work and speaking up about their own personal experiences. I don't have time to give all the examples, but, if people are interested, I would encourage them to look at reports in the local Illawarra Mercury. You will see the work of people like Steve Gibbeson, Ben Woods and Dean Antony. These are local people who have been doing fundraising to assist in ensuring mental health support services are available. Only today the Illawarra Mercury has a report on the International Women's Day committee making a donation to assist young mothers dealing with postnatal depression.

These are excellent examples, and the stories reflect the great commitment, which I want to also acknowledge, of our local media—and the Illawarra Mercury in particular—who have been very proactive in ensuring these issues get the airing that they need so that people are aware of the issue, they reach out, they seek help and they talk to their GP, ring Lifeline or visit their local headspace service—whichever service is relevant. I will put that information and those contact details on my Facebook with this speech. I think we all would want to carry that message to people in our communities. There is somebody there to help. Please reach out. There are these wonderful people and organisations who are there to help. We have to get those suicide rates down.