Mr ENTSCH (Leichhardt-Chief Opposition Whip) (11:11): I rise in this Suicide Prevention Week to highlight the work of a very worthwhile organisation in Cairns, the Dr Edward Koch Foundation. Since 1996 this non-profit organisation has been involved in many public health activities in Far North Queensland, but a focus I have been particularly supportive of is its role in suicide prevention.
In Far North Queensland, since 2007, 40 people on average have taken their own life each year. Anecdotally, I understand this is higher than other regions with a similar population. I have closely followed two particularly sad cases that have occurred in recent times in Cairns. The first case was that of 20-year-old Shelby Fullalove, who committed suicide in February just three weeks after being discharged from the Cairns Base Hospital’s mental health ward. On 9 March local teenager Declan Crouch disappeared after school. After an extensive and very public three-month search the 13-year-old’s body was found near his Machans Beach home.
From these tragic cases lessons must be learnt, and this is where the Dr Edward Koch Foundation, and in particular its CEO Dulcie Bird, has risen to the challenge. For some years, the foundation has presented its Life workshops throughout Far North Queensland giving people a set of basic skills to help them realise when someone is at risk of suicide and to know how to respond, along with information on referral services. After Cyclone Yasi, the workshop was held with a post-disaster wellbeing focus, addressing ongoing mental health needs.
Dulcie Bird has told me the more she travels around doing this work the more she sees a pressing need for basic suicide awareness and prevention education in our schools. Speaking to parents of teenagers who have taken their own life and often to the victims’ friends, they told her they were not aware of how serious the situation was or what they could have done to help. Sometimes a person who suicides has posted comments on Facebook or may have experienced cyberbullying. The foundation is now developing a version of its Life workshop for teenagers.
Complementing these activities, the foundation runs a free bereavement support service. In June the Dr Edward Koch Foundation hosted its second national Suicide and Self-harm Prevention Conference. I am very proud to have participated in both of those conferences, and they were an outstanding success. The foundation has also set up the Declan Crouch Fund. All money raised will go towards suicide prevention in Far North Queensland.
No doubt, 40 deaths a year is 40 too many. Unfortunately it is very difficult to ensure accurate statistics from these cases due to the underreporting of suicide. In researching this speech, I found that figures are often unconfirmed for up to two years while coroners reports are in progress.
Suicides are usually expressed as the number of individual cases rather than broken down into rates per region, ethnicity, gender or age, making it difficult to identify areas where suicide prevention activity should be focused. Lastly, the media guidelines mean that suicide-if covered at all-is often reported as non-suspicious death. This contributes to the issue not being openly discussed.
In this regard, I commend the Cairns Post for its extensive coverage of the deaths of both Shelby Fullalove and Declan Crouch, which has certainly helped to raise the awareness of this dreadful epidemic in our community.
The really incredible and sad thing is that the foundation does not receive any ongoing Commonwealth funding for its activities but relies on occasional one-off grants, corporate sponsorships, donations and fundraising to raise money to try and continue to provide these services.
For an organisation that is recognised around this country-and around the world-as a leader in suicide prevention, they are struggling to continue to offer their desperately needed services. I certainly call on the government to recognise the foundation’s value and to provide an appropriate level of funding.
In closing, I would like to refer to Dr Edward Koch himself, who, in 1880, stood alone in recognising the link between mosquitoes and malaria. Dr Koch was tireless in his efforts to have the local swampland cleared and drained. He was often seen doing the rounds of work gangs, appealing to them to wear long sleeves to avoid being bitten.
The same level of perseverance and determination is required in the field of suicide prevention. It is the most worthwhile of causes and I again commend the work of the Dr Edward Koch Foundation.
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