22 August 2019
Dr MARJORIE O'NEILL (Coogee) (15:50): I bring to the attention of the House the increasing number of young people that are choosing to take their own life. Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians aged 15 to 44: That is not okay. Over the last decade there has been a 20 per cent increase in the number of young people committing suicide. The number of children and young people who have taken their own lives over the past 12 months in my electorate of Coogee has risen distinctly. That devastating trend involves the loss of thousands of lives each year. Each loss would be entirely preventable if we knew more about the causes and had early intervention services in place. It is crucial to better understand the paths that lead young people to end their own lives in order to effectively address the problem.
Some things we do know are distressing, to say the least. Each year over the past 10 years, 3,000 people have taken their own lives. That is more than eight people every day—almost double the national road toll. Women are twice as likely to attempt suicide as men. However, males are three times more likely to die by suicide, with men making up 75 percent of suicides. The suicide rate is twice as high for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people than non-Indigenous Australians. The fastest growing statistic is the number of youth suicides. The number of under-age people taking their own life grew by between 20 per cent and 25 per cent over the past 10 years.
We know that the causes of suicide are complex. Factors that we know are part of the contributory mix include underlying mental illness, domestic violence, family breakdown, trauma, chronic illness, drug and alcohol abuse and dire financial hardship. If we are to make any indent in these terrible figures and help each person who finds themselves in those situations, solutions will only come when we start facing up to the issue's painful root causes. Currently our system is singularly focused on picking up the pieces after the damage has been done— repairing the damage after a crisis. Imagine what could be achieved if we channelled more funding into early intervention services.
Children are now more likely to be faced with instability in their lives from a young age and are far more likely to drop out of school and fail to find regular, consistent employment. Instead of putting a bandaid over the wound, early intervention can stop the fall from happening in the first place. One in four young people are living with a mental disorder and 9 per cent of young people 16 to 24 years old, experience high to very high levels of psychological distress. People aged 18 to 24 years have the highest prevalence of mental disorders of any other age group, and youth suicide is the leading cause of death in young people aged 15 to 24 years. Again, this is not okay and we must do more to help our young people.
We know that there are protective factors that make people more resilient and can reduce suicidal behaviour, such as supportive social relationships, a sense of control, a sense of purpose, family harmony, effective help-seeking, positive connections and the availability of good health services. It is our responsibility in this place that we ensure that young people access education and training, jobs, and health care and support systems to ensure that they can live happy and healthy lives. Sustainable, reliable and rewarding work is essential to the self-esteem and self-worth of young people. Financial security, financial independence, a sense of belonging and skills development are all built through employment and are essential elements to a happy and productive person.
Youth unemployment is a significant contributing factor to youth suicide rates but, worryingly, rates of youth unemployment show no sign of improvement—they remain stagnant and rates of under-employment are exploding. A recent report by Youth Action, the peak body for young people and youth services in New South Wales, reveals that half of Australia's 25-year-olds are unable to secure full-time employment despite 60 per cent of them holding post-school qualifications. One in three young people is unemployed or underemployed. The youth unemployment rate is more than double the national average. Out of 1.4 million jobs advertised online in New South Wales last year, only 6,311 were advertised with "no experience required"—that is, 0.5 per cent of available positions were entry level.
In the State, more than 84,000 young people are experiencing unemployment. The numbers are significantly higher in the Hunter Valley, the mid North Coast and other regional parts of New South Wales. In specific sub-regions such as the Southern Highlands, the Shoalhaven and the Coffs, there are hotspots of youth unemployment reaching up to 28 per cent. Too many young people in New South Wales are caught in the cycle of "I need experience to get a job; I need a job to get experience". The cycle has caused a number mental health issues such as stress and anxiety. We need to do more. I acknowledge the great work of the Black Dog Institute, which is dedicated to understanding, preventing and treating mental illness. Earlier this year I was pleased to help launch clinical research that the institution is doing into the impact of exercise on mental health. On 12 October I will participate in its Exercise Your Mood half-marathon.