Today is National RU OK Day and the state government has released its new Suicide Prevention Action Plan in a concerted effort to reduce suicide rates in Queensland by fifty per cent over the next ten years.
Suicide is the leading cause of death in Australians between the ages of fifteen and forty-four and studies have shown that remote regions have a higher risk than metropolitan areas.
RU OK General Manager, Brendan Maher, believes that geographic isolation as well as prolonged drought and financial pressures can take a significant toll on emotional wellbeing for people in remote communities.
“In some areas it might take you a couple of hours just to go and see your neighbour… maintaining those connections can be a lot more challenging particularly when you’re in a remote location,” he says.
Mr Maher says that taking the time to check up on a mate who you haven’t seen in a while can make all the difference.
“If you’ve got someone in your community who you’ve noticed a change in their behaviour – maybe they’re withdrawing or experiencing grief or their crop hasn’t done so well – take the time to check in or give them a ring and see how they’re doing.
“We’ve got a strong evidence base that connectedness can be a major preventative factor… just knowing that someone actually cares enough to reach out.”
Paul Ventaloro is the founder of the Toowoomba-based Suicide Prevention Network, which focuses on preventing suicide by connecting organizations such as Lifeline, Queensland Health and regional councils to focus on building community connectivity.
“Things like drugs and alcohol, poverty… all of those things are often made worse because there is a lack of connection within the community. A lot of times people get into hardship because they have no family or community networks to support them, because families aren’t connected the way they used to be,” he says.
Mr Ventaloro believes that community engagement and community-involved problem solving play a key role in preventing suicide in remote communities.
“It’s good to see the government encouraging organisations and communities to work more collaboratively.”
The government’s Suicide Prevention Plan will focus on regional areas by building upon existing strengths and community partnerships, but Mr Maher hopes that the policies will be implemented effectively.
“Mental health, suicide, is an incredibly complex issue… my fear with all these things is that we lose some of the continuity with changes of government and different priorities in areas like health,” he says.
But for regional and remote communities, the change starts with the locals.
“I think sometimes we doubt our ability to make a difference but I think we should find the courage and reach out and connect with our neighbours in regional and remote areas.”