Medical experts warn Australia’s suicide rate could increase by more than a quarter and could continue for years in the wake of coronavirus.
Medical experts warn Australia’s suicide rate could increase by more than a quarter and could continue for years in the wake of coronavirus.

Plan to tackle feared virus suicide spike

An action plan to tackle Australia's looming mental health crisis will be unveiled by political leaders tomorrow amid fears the suicide rate could grow by 25 per cent as a result of coronavirus. 

The "mental health pandemic plan" will boost data-sharing between states and territories and service providers to monitor the crisis and target support.

It will also look at linking services like Lifeline with emergency responders to send urgent help to those in need.

The plan, set to be signed off by National Cabinet tomorrow, comes after the Australian Medical Association and leading mental health experts warned an extra 750 to 1500 suicides could occur this year, in addition to the 3000 lives already lost to suicide in Australia each year. 

"This tragically higher rate is likely to persist for up to five years if the economic downturn lasts more than 12 months," AMA President Tony Bartone said in a statement with experts Ian Hickie and Patrick McGorry. 

AMA president Dr Tony Bartone. Picture: Sean Davey
AMA president Dr Tony Bartone. Picture: Sean Davey

The mental health crisis was likely to overshadow the number of deaths directly attributable to COVID-19, they said. 

More than 630 South Australians have already reached out to a mental health hotline launched by the State Government on March 31 to meet higher demand for support during the pandemic. 

Most calls were from people aged 36 to 50, followed by those aged 51 to 65.

"While South Australians have been subject to fewer restrictions than other Australians, there is no doubt that the pandemic and the response is having a significant impact on their mental wellbeing, particularly as it came on top of drought and bushfire," State Health Minister Stephen Wade said. 

"Mental health issues will need to be addressed both in the short and long term.

"Protecting the health of South Australians was a key reason we did not impose restrictions that were not necessary at the time for our state."

Plans for an urgent mental health care centre for SA are already under way.

A new deputy chief medical officer, former Victorian chief psychiatrist Dr Ruth Vine, has also been appointed to help steer the National Cabinet's response to mental health issues from the pandemic.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and state premiers will also receive an economic update from Reserve Bank of Australia governor Philip Lowe, Treasury Secretary Steven Kennedy and financial watchdog, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority.

It comes as 594,300 jobs were lost across Australia in April and unemployment rose to 6.2 per cent.

State leaders will also discuss progress on lifting restrictions across the nation.

The Suicide Call Back service is on 1300 659 467.

Originally published as Plan to tackle feared virus suicide spike


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