Valley suicide rates exceed national and state averages

INCIDENTS of suicide in the Latrobe Valley have promoted community action, with the region exceeding national and state averages in the most recent Australian Bureau of Statistics data.

The ABS 2012 data released late last month reported an estimated suicide index of 1.351 in the Latrobe Valley, above the Australian index of 1 and well above the Victorian index of 0.929.

Fifty-four Latrobe Valley residents took their own lives between 2007 and 2012, out of 2689 Victorians and 12,057 Australians.

The data has urged the Wesley Mission, a Christian-run care service based in Sydney, to instigate a Wesley Lifeforce Suicide Prevention Program in Traralgon next month.

“This region goes against the grain of what’s going on as a whole (in Australia),” Wesley Lifeforce deputy chair Tony Cassidy said.

“We don’t know the reasons for that and the local knowledge and understanding is important.”

The community networking program will engage local community members, mental health workers, police, Latrobe Regional Hospital and schools to look at the local issues surrounding suicide.

Mr Cassidy said the network’s success was based on a “whole community approach” to understand what the community can do to reduce the impact.

“The Latrobe Valley is a high risk area, with influencing factors and we’ll consult the local services in the process of establishing a network,” Mr Cassidy said.

Gippsland Mental Health Alliance – a group of mental health providers, including Latrobe Regional Hospital, SNAP Gippsland, Lifeline Gippsland, Mind and Mental Illness Fellowship – has also made suicide prevention its key project for the next 12 months in response to the data.

LRH mental health director and deputy chair of the alliance Cayte Hoppner said the group will be discussing prevention in rural areas within a range of issues such as family violence, alcohol and drug-use, social isolation, drought and fires.

Ms Hoppner said she was cautious about the local statistics and what it meant in comparison to state and national data, and said other areas in the state had “significantly higher rates”.

“We think we need to do something in our region to improve the resilience and mental health of the community,” she said.

“It’s important to access help and we can see it as an important social and health issue.

“We all need to take responsibility to suicide prevention, not just mental health services and counsellors. It sits with all of us.”

The Wesley Lifeforce Suicide Program will hold a community meeting at the Traralgon Neighbourhood Learning House on the 29 April at 5pm.

Support is available for anyone who may be distressed by calling Lifeline 131 114, Mensline 1300 789 978 or Kids Helpline 1800 551 800.