The key to stopping suicide lies in community participation

Suicide in Australia is at its critical point. With suicide deaths now more than twice the national road toll, and with the overwhelming majority of people who die by suicide in Australia men, we must take a stronger stance and a proactive approach to its prevention.

The latest alarming figures by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show 2864 people died from suicide in 2014, up from 2335 in the previous report, released in 2009. That equates to almost a 14 per cent increase.

About three-quarters (75.4 per cent) of people who died by suicide were male, making intentional self-harm the 10th leading cause of death for men in Australia.

When I see those numbers, I can't help but think – Where were the people? How many services were they accessing? How many of us actually tried to have conversations with them? And how many proactive services were trying to intervene?

Despite what people say, suicide is preventable. These figures simply highlight that we, as a nation, need to do so much more. We need to continue to find ways to connect with not only men, but women and youths too.

We need to provide support and education in both our communities and in the workforce. And we need to do this before it is too late.


Crisis care and mental health institutions are of utmost importance when it comes to bringing suicide rates down. But if we're placing all our focus on crisis, we're actually losing the battle before it has even begun.

The key to stopping suicide is in prevention. We need to stop stigmatising mental health. We need to educate people about it, and encourage them to have the confidence to open up and simply have a conversation with somebody – whether it be their work colleague, family, friends, neighbour or even the person at the bus stop.

OzHelp Foundation has  a 45-minute introduction to mental health program called ALERT which is delivered to around 9000 people each year across Australia. Last year we delivered the program to a group of students at a training institution, teaching them about the warning signs surrounding suicide.

After completing the program, one of the participants, a man in his early 20s, recognised some concerning signs about one of his friends. He approached this friend who he hadn't seen around and initiated a conversation about how he was feeling.

During the course of the conversation, he learnt that his friend was not doing well at all, and actually had a plan to take his own life. Alarmingly, this friend found a way to access lethal means, and had the intention of fulfilling the plan only days later. By simply initiating the conversation, the participant was able to help his friend get the support he needed, and as a result, he is alive today.

This story is only one of many which show that suicide prevention works.

Put simply, we cannot afford to wait until people are at crisis point to catch them. We need to be doing everything we're doing earlier, rather than waiting until people reach a point of desperation. Once they are in high crisis the chances of actually implementing change are much more limited.

Whether we're dealing with a person's mental health, their physical health, or even their relationships – the same story applies. The longer we leave it, the further they get towards crisis, and the lower the chances are of success.

In 2015, the OzHelp Foundation provided services to more than 33,000 people in workplaces across Australia. While this figure may sound impressive, the reality is that we are only reaching a tiny component of the country.

In order to instigate much needed change, we need the government's support to allow us to implement our early prevention programs across all of Australia.

We have the solutions available and we know they work but the government needs to step up and help us make the change that's crying out to be addressed.

We're engaging with working Australian men before they reach crisis and providing them with good information to help themselves and those around them.

Ultimately, I believe that is the key to bringing suicide rates down – and doing this not only for men, but also for women and children wherever they are in the country.

After all, one death by suicide is one too many.

Tony Holland is the CEO of OzHelp Foundation, a national men's mental health organisation which aims to prevent the suicide of working men by supporting them in workplaces to be more resilient and confident in meeting life's challenges.