REAL action, rather than token advertising, is needed now to support men at risk of suicide in Ballarat, says one of the city's leading mental health advocates.
Andrew Collins' plea comes as the Australian Men's Health Forum (AMHF) raises concerns about the federal government's $64 million commitment to mental health which was announced on January 30.
The AMHF, Australia's leading men's health advocate, says the majority of the funding announcement - which includes $7 million to expand programs like Way Back, which assists people who have attempted suicide and $10 million to expand StandBy, an after suicide service for families - would be predominantly used to assist women, not the men who make up 75 per cent of the total suicide rate.
HAVE YOUR SAY BELOW
Mr Collins said while any money being spent was welcome, he said funding for specific mental health services, particularly for men in Ballarat, was crucial now.
"We lose three to five people in Ballarat each week," Mr Collins said.
"We are spending $150,000 to $200,000 each year on coroner reports. We are spending a fortune mopping up blood but doing nothing to prevent it.
"We lose as many people each year in Ballarat to suicide as the whole state does in the road toll. If people were dying of cancer, or we had the coronavirus, it would be a national emergency, yet nothing is being done."
Chief executive of the AMHF Glen Poole has called for an audit to reveal the true "gender funding gap" in the federal government's suicide prevention programs.
"Suicide kills eight people a day in Australia, on average that's six men and two women every 24 hours," Mr Poole said.
"The government has made suicide prevention a national priority and appointed a National Suicide Prevention Advisor, Christine Morgan, to rethink Australia's approach to suicide prevention.
"We have been encouraged by some of Ms Morgan's initial recommendations to government, which includes calls for strategies targeting men at risk of suicide and a greater focus on the life experiences linked to suicide such as financial hardship, relationships issues and dependence on drink and drugs.
"Unfortunately, the call to specifically target male suicide has not been backed by any funding commitments, with most of the money the government invests in suicide prevention being targeted at women, who account for (25 per cent) of all suicides."
Mr Poole said while the AMHF does not advocate for reduced funding of female programs, it believes men deserve a greater slice of the pie.
"We are calling on the government to audit the $740.6 million budget it has allocated to suicide prevention in 2019-2020, to assess the scale of the "gender funding gap" and let the public know how much of this funding is reaching men at risk of suicide," he said.
We lose as many people each year in Ballarat to suicide as the whole state does in the road toll. If people were dying of cancer, or we had the corona virus, it would be a national emergency, yet nothing is being doneAndrew Collins
Mr Collins said funding was critical for services that deal direct with patients.
"By the time you announce funding around Australia, there's very little that actually makes it onto the ground," he said.
"Years ago we had a Crisis Action Team (CAT) team in Ballarat, we don't have that now.
"If there's an issue, the first people who come out now are the police, if you've got mental health concerns, the last thing you want is police. I've had the experience, it's difficult on police and you swear to yourself to not call the police again."
Ballarat MP Catherine King, formerly the opposition health spokesperson, said she welcomed any steps to tackle suicide and any investment in suicide prevention measures and research.
"Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians between 15 and 44 years of age, and we know that men are more likely to die by suicide and less likely to seek help. Those are both issues that need to be addressed.
"In order to confront this challenge, we need to continue to break down the stigma that prevents people from seeking help when they need it, as well as ensuring that that help is available to all who need it in every part of the country.
"I hope the appointment of a National Suicide Prevention Advisor is a step towards providing greater national leadership in mental health."
It's gone beyond tears, you just can't cry anymore. It's anger. It's frustration. Something has to be done and it has to be done nowAndrew Collins
Ms Morgan said she was pleased to provide initial advice to the government.
"In talking to individuals and communities over the past six months, it has been clear to me that we need to co-design our suicide prevention approach in a way that is led by those with lived and living experience of suicide," Ms Morgan said.
"We often think about services and systems and what is available, rather than truly understand what people need and what has worked, and not worked, for them in the past. We need to put people back at the centre of policies and planning."
READ MORE: Mental health admissions rising in Ballarat
Health Minister Greg Hunt said suicide remained a "national tragedy".
"Every life lost to suicide has a devastating impact on families, friends and communities," Mr Hunt said.
Mr Hunt said Ms Morgan had advocated for a fundamental shift in the approach to the prevention of suicide and self-harm.
He said her initial advice outlines the need to use the knowledge of experience, to intervene early, focus on specific at-risk groups and ensure that all government services - not just health services - are working to reduce suicide.
"Christine's initial advice will be made available shortly to canvass early findings with the sector and all interested stakeholders," he said.
"I encourage all Australians interested in suicide prevention to engage with Christine and contribute to the interim report handed down in July. This will help guide the government's longer term response to suicide prevention."
Ms King said she encouraged the creation of individual counsellors that can deal with each person struggling with the mental health individually.
"Survivors have complex needs and it is often made too difficult for them to access the range of support that they require," Ms King said.
"We need to ensure that they only need to tell their story once - not retell it to every medical practitioner or agency that they come into contact with.
"In the past I have called for a one-stop counsellor for survivors in our community and I will continue to support any proposal that offers a more effective way to provide support and services to those who need them."
Mr Collins, himself an abuse survivor, continues to lobby both state and federal governments for a men's health clinic for Ballarat, while the dream result would also be for suicide prevention clinic as well.
"Figures for suicide don't include single car accidents, or drink and drug overdoses," Mr Collins said.
We often think about services and systems and what is available, rather than truly understand what people need and what has worked, and not worked, for them in the past.National Suicide Prevention Advisor Christine Morgan
"Every suicide, it's not just one life, it's the ongoing ripple effect through families, there's a whole system that's being failed. Unfortunately we're on the front line. It's a war and we're losing.
"You've got all these programs and putting all that funding into those things is fine, but where's the increased support for mental health so people don't go from crisis-to-crisis. If you give the treatment, you'll decrease risk.
"It's gone beyond tears, you just can't cry anymore. It's anger. It's frustration. Something has to be done and it has to be done now, not next year, not a few thousand dollars here and there. It needs to be done now."
If you or someone you know is in need of crisis support, phone Lifeline 13 11 14.
Help is also available, but not limited, via the following organisations. The key message is you are not alone.
- beyondblue 1300 224 636 or beyondblue.org.au
- Suicide Callback Service: 1300 659 467
- Mens line: 1300 789 978 or mensline.org.au
- Survivors of Suicide: 0449 913 535
- Relationships Australia: 1800 050 321
- headspace Ballarat (for 12-25s and parent support): 5304 4777
- Soldier On: 1300 620 380
- Ballarat Community Health: 5338 4500
- QLife: 1800 184 527 (Support for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people)
- Family violence: 1800 RESPECT