by Matt Dawson
“If six Australians drowned every day there would be a national outcry. I want New South Wales to spend as much money on suicide prevention campaigns as it does on road safety campaigns,” Matt Kean, State Member for Hornsby, told NSW Parliament two years ago
The start of Mr Kean’s political career was marred by tragedy when Mike Powell, an 18-year-old campaign worker, took his life in May 2011.
The suicide of Mike Powell shocked everyone around him. A popular young man, he was studying accounting at the University of Technology, Sydney and about to embark on a traineeship with accountancy firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). Mike was part of Mr Kean’s campaign team for the seat of Hornsby during the 2011 State Election.
Mr Kean used his inaugural speech to commemorate Mike’s life and call on the Government to improve services for suicide prevention. Today, Mr Kean reflects on what progress has been made issue on the issue.
“What I am proud of is that my maiden speech started a conversation within government and started a conversation in the community and put suicide prevention smack bang on the State Government’s agenda.
“We still have a very long way to go in reducing the rate of suicide in this country, which is still higher than the national road toll. I think it is a national disgrace,” says Mr Kean.
In April, Mr Kean hosted the first Hornsby Ku-ring-gai Youth Forum where 300 high school students got the opportunity to talk about mental health issues with their peers and hear from experts in the field, like Professor John Mendoza, inaugural Chair of the Federal Government National Advisory Council on Mental Health
The NSW Ombudsman’s annual report identified 16 suicide deaths among 14 to 17 year olds in NSW during 2011. Since 1998, there has been no sustained reduction in the annual rates.
The NSW Mental Health Commission is developing a Strategic Plan in consultation with community stakeholders. The plan will be presented to the State Government in March 2014.
Professor Mendoza wants to see clear targets and goals set in the Commission’s Strategic Plan.
“No more spray and pray in relation to this effort. There are high and very high risk groups. The strategy must have specific efforts to reduce the risk and ultimately rate of suicide in these populations. The impact will almost be immediate with well targeted strategies,” Professor Mendoza says.
R U OK? Day was held on September 12.