A peak body for suicide prevention has warned more needs to be done to help Mr Fluffy households as a new report shows the devastating mental health impact of the asbestos crisis on some homeowners.
According to a yet-to-be-released report produced as part of the ACT Asbestos Health Study, one quarter of Mr Fluffy-affected homeowners responding to a survey reported high levels of psychological distress.
Just over a quarter of 1022 Mr Fluffy households participated in the survey, conducted by researchers at the ANU, in order to help determine the likely exposure levels and health related concerns of current and recent residents.
One third of respondents sought professional help with physical or mental health issues perceived to be relating to living in a Mr Fluffy home, and 10 per cent of residents reported health effects which they perceived to be related to living in a Mr Fluffy home, most being psychological.
"The survey indicated that some people living in a Mr Fluffy house have experienced levels of psychological distress and health concerns, however most of the residents reported being in relatively good health with low anxiety and low psychological distress," a government brief on the report states.
Lifeline Canberra chief executive Carrie-Ann Leeson said the organisation had approached the ACT government in 2015 for more funds to deal with the fallout but was ignored.
"I explained to them what we we're seeing, we put forward a proposal in which we were willing to carry and fund half the cost of an impactful program, a measurable, evidence-based program to support individuals. We never heard back from them."
Ms Leeson said a lot of Mr Fluffy homeowners had navigated their way through the process with "incredible resilience", but many hadn't.
"Although we don't have coronial data to back it up, we do know that on the phones and through our face to face support groups, our education programs here in Canberra, we do know that a very large number of Mr Fluffy homeowners were suffering from suicidal thoughts, and still are," Ms Leeson said.
She said the rate of suicide was hard to quantify because the ACT lacked a regular coroner, and the process of determining the cause of death varied. But in Lifeline's phone rooms, the issues were troubling.
"We've had conversations with the [Asbestos Response] Taskforce and people at hand, but whether there are competing priorities, whether they're not getting that information or whether they're not acknowledging it, it's a very big problem," Ms Leeson said.
The Asbestos Response Taskforce partnered with a range of community agencies to provide support to Mr Fluffy-affected homeowners, but none dealt specifically with suicide prevention.
Ms Leeson said it wasn't long after she'd approached the government that a representative for NRMA Insurance called about the problem. They said they were receiving hundreds of calls from Mr Fluffy homeowners and could see the distress it was causing.
"They said they were seeing a problem in Canberra on a scale they'd never seen before," Ms Leeson said.
"It surprises me that no one else in the ACT government was recognising that distress."
Lifeline gave NRMA the same proposal they had previously given the government, and the NRMA, whose parent company IAG has a flagship partnership with Lifeline, funded it. The partnership provided education programs and crisis support to those affected, but the program was only able to reach about 250 people.
IAG executive general manager claims Cheryl Chantry said while NRMA Insurance employees were helping Mr Fluffy victims through the physical aspects, they noticed a "real need" for help with the mental and emotional side of things.
Ms Leeson said those 250 people were the "tip of the iceberg", and donations, fundraising and current ACT government funding was not enough to meet demand.
An Asbestos Taskforce spokesman said the government had declined Lifeline's request in 2015 for further funding to provide suicide prevention to affected homeowners because it had already "implemented a support program in partnership with a number of organisations".
The ACT government provides Lifeline annual funding of $225,555. The spokesman said the government was not aware of any suicides relating to the Mr Fluffy situation.
This year, the ACT government has created a dedicated portfolio to prioritise mental health. Minister for Mental Health Shane Rattenbury said he would use the position to ensure no one fell through the gaps.
"One key role of the new Office for Mental Health will be to establish a clear picture of the prevalence of mental health concerns, suicide attempts and the demand for suicide prevention services in the ACT so that we can ensure we are meeting the needs of our community," Mr Rattenbury said.
He said by establishing the mental health-focused services, the government was "making a clear commitment to greater investment in the mental health and wellbeing of our community".
- Lifeline 131 114, beyondblue: 1300 224 636