Lifeline CEO says service inundated with calls for help in wake of royal commission

TIME TO TALK ABOUT SUICIDE: Lifeline chief executive officer Peter Shmigel has called for a national summit into suicide.

TIME TO TALK ABOUT SUICIDE: Lifeline chief executive officer Peter Shmigel has called for a national summit into suicide.

Lifeline has been inundated with calls for help in the wake of the royal commissions into child sexual abuse and family violence.

During a visit to Ballarat on Wednesday, Lifeline chief executive Pete Shmigel said calls to the service related to past childhood trauma and family violence have been steadily increasing.The number of Australians taking their own lives has hit a 10-year high.

Mr Shmigel said rates of suicide were up to two and half times higher in regional areas than metropolitan cities. Ballarat is estimated to have between 100 and 150 annual suicide deaths but no official figures have ever been released.

“Suicide never comes down to a single factor, it is a tremendously complex phenomena,” he said.  “Different things contribute to it, whether it’s trauma, abuse, family violence, economic restructures. Most of the people that call us aren’t actually mentally unwell. They’re overwhelmed, isolated and they feel alone.”

Mr Shmigel is calling for a national summit on suicide to start a countrywide conversation about how the issue can be responded to differently. He said significant work needed to be undertaken between the health system, police, non-government and community based organisations to identity people at risk and and connect them to support.

“We have to have an appetite for innovation to introduce more of a compassionate approach as opposed to just a clinical approach,” he said.

“There should be a national summit to talk about what is our underlying objective and what are the recommended practices when it comes to suicide prevention.”

Mr Shmigel said listening to people with lived experience was paramount in breaking down the stigma surrounding suicide.

“For all the sadness, tragedy and suffering Ballarat has had to go through, the clergy abuse survivors have done a great service in making it okay for people to talk about their pain,” he said. 

“They’ve broken down the stigma and the shame and now a lot of people are putting up their hands saying they need help.”

There are 50 volunteers at the Ballarat’s Lifeline service, but they are always looking for more compassionate and empathetic people to join their team.

 For details, call  5322 4996.  If you are in crisis or distress, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.