Lifeline experiences a spike in crisis calls due to pandemic

Here to help: One of Lifeline's crisis support volunteers with Lifeline Macarthur chief executive Brad Hannagan. Picture: Supplied
Here to help: One of Lifeline's crisis support volunteers with Lifeline Macarthur chief executive Brad Hannagan. Picture: Supplied

Recent data has revealed that distress levels in the community are high and still on the rise due to ongoing COVID-19 restrictions.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) report into suicide and self-harm has shown an increase in ambulance attendances for suicidal and self-harm ideation and increased levels of psychological distress, particularly among younger people.

Lifeline also recorded 3,345 crisis calls on Monday, August 2 - the highest daily number of calls in the organisation's history.

Suicide Prevention Australia chief executive Nieves Murray said the increased numbers of people experiencing distress was concerning.

"The recent lockdowns have significantly shifted the social and economic landscape in Australia and will exacerbate the risk factors that are clearly linked to distress such as economic hardship, employment, relationship breakdown and loneliness, particularly for young people," Ms Murray said.

"Fortunately, while there has been a rise in the use of mental health services and an increase in psychological distress there hasn't been a rise in deaths by suicide."

The AIHW report revealed ambulances attended around 22,400 incidents involving suicidal behaviours (suicidal ideation or suicide attempt) in NSW, VIC, TAS and the ACT during the months of March, June, September and December last year.

More than 50 per cent of these calls occurred in NSW.

The data also showed that "there were higher numbers of attendances for self-harm behaviours in the younger age groups for both males and females".

Ms Murray said she 'strongly encouraged' young people to take a proactive approach when it came to their mental health and to seek support.

"There are many support services for the youth community including headspace, ReachOut, Kids Helpline and Batyr," she said.

"For parents, grandparents and carers, it's important to find time for regular check-ins with the young people in your lives, particularly if you notice things don't seem quite right.

"In some instances, COVID-19 has exacerbated feelings of loneliness for young people."

The AIHW data also revealed that ambulances attendances for suicide attempts, suicidal ideation and self-harm rose across the state in 2020 compared to previous years.

Ms Murray said the suicide prevention sector was working together to ensure the evolving needs of the community were being addressed during this time.

"As a sector, we are doing our best to ensure people have access to safe, effective support services and are continuing to find alternative solutions such as peer-led, digital and community-led initiatives," she said.

"We welcome additional funding invested in crisis supports from the Commonwealth and New South Wales Government. We know that half of those whose lives are lost to suicide are not in contact with mental health services, so we need to make sure all people in lockdown have access to financial and social supports during these tough times.

"Help-seeking pathways extend beyond calling a support line or meeting with a counsellor. There are now texting services, downloadable resources and online community forums."

Ms Murray urged people to seek help if they were feeling distressed.

"You do not have to go this alone. Help is always available no matter who you are or what situation you are in," she said.

"Physical distancing does not mean emotional and social distancing - it is important for ourselves, our loved ones and our communities to remain emotionally and socially connected."

To get help 24/7, phone Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.

If you, or someone you know, is experiencing a personal crisis, please seek help immediately by calling 000 or one of these services:

  • Lifeline: 13 11 14
  • Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
  • or the NSW Mental Health Line: 1800 011 511
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