A NEW monitoring system has shed light on the rates of suicide and self-harm in parts of central Victoria in the past 10 years.
A number of central Victorian health service providers and suicide prevention and awareness groups have welcomed the web-based resource, which they say will help target their efforts.
They have urged those considering taking their own lives, or concerned for another person, to seek support.
Bendigo Health's Hospital Outreach Post-suicidal Engagement program coordinator, Denise Dudley said suicidal thoughts could be changed, and there was help available.
Her role involved working with people who had tried to take their own lives or were seriously considering doing so, and their support networks.
The establishment of the region's HOPE program was informed by suicide and self-harm data.
Efforts are underway to boost the program's capacity, with the support of Mind Australia.
Ms Dudley said the local suicide and self-harm data available from the new monitoring system generally aligned with the national rate.
The Murray primary health network area - a region of almost 100,000 square kilometres, including Bendigo and much of the state's north - recorded suicide rates on or near the national average for three of the four years from 2010 to 2013.
The region's suicide rates were above the national average from 2014 to 2018, but preliminary data suggested the gap was closing.
The Murray primary health network area's suicide rates from 2010 to 2018 appeared to peak in 2016, with a revised rate of 15.5 deaths per 100,000 people. The national average that year was 11.9.
Preliminary data showed a drop to 13.6 deaths per 100,000 people in 2018. The national average was 12.
The more remote a geographic area was within Australia, the higher rates of death by suicide generally were.
Murray is one of 31 primary health network areas nationwide. Rates of suicide in the Murray region were mostly mid-range.
There were 14.5 suicide deaths per 100,000 people in the statistical area broadly covering the federal division of Bendigo from 2014 to 2018. There were 110 deaths recorded in the area in those five years.
Seventy-three of the people who took their own lives in the Bendigo area were male, and 37 were female.
The rate of deaths by suicide for males in the Bendigo area was almost double that of females, for those five years.
Males were more likely to take their own lives than females, nationwide.
What tends to get lost in all these statistics is that every death is a tragedy.Rachel Stewart, The Every Life Matters Network
Ms Dudley said the region's men and boys were less likely to access support.
"Often in our area females are more likely to try and access support and therefore intervention can take place," she said.
A higher rate of women and girls in the Murray primary health network area were hospitalised for intentional self-harm from 2018-19 than men and boys, according to the monitoring system.
Females are generally more likely to be hospitalised for intentional self-harm than males, nationwide.
However, the primary health network area had the highest rate of men between the ages of 45 - 64 being hospitalised for intentional self-harm in Victoria, at 117.8 per 100,000 people.
Not all of the patients hospitalised for intentional self-harm might have been trying to take their own lives; the data included patients with and without suicidal intent.
Jeremy Forbes from Hope Assistance Local Tradies, or HALT, said the rate of intentional self-harm hospitalisations for men between the ages of 45-64 in the Murray primary health network area was concerning.
National data indicated people between the ages of 30 and 59 accounted for the highest proportion of deaths by suicide.
One of the leaders of a Mount Alexander-based suicide prevention and awareness initiative, The Every Life Matters Network, said every death by suicide affected a large group of people.
"We're not just talking about numbers, we're talking about people," The ELM Network's Rachel Stewart said.
Part of her role in the network includes running a peer support group for people bereaved by suicide.
"What tends to get lost in all these statistics is that every death is a tragedy," Ms Stewart said.
She said there was still a lot of stigma surrounding suicide and self-harm, which could affect how deaths were recorded and referenced.
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In addition to peer support, the ELM Network is seeking to break down stigma and provide community education.
"We want people to be able to notice the signs and to be able to ask people confidently [if they are considering taking their own lives]," Ms Stewart said.
A number of other suicide prevention and awareness groups in central Victoria, such as SPAN, are seeking to get more involved in education and support.
Advocates share strength
SUICIDE prevention advocates have urged people to reach out for help and support, as a new monitoring system shares data on lives lost in the region.
The National Suicide and Self-harm Monitoring System is a web-based resource offering comprehensive data and context.
It includes data about suicide deaths and intentional self-harm hospitalisation in statistical areas and primary health network regions.
Headspace Bendigo manager Lindsay Rose said the National Suicide and Self-harm Monitoring System would help services work out where to tailor their focus.
"Traditionally, it has been hard to get a regional breakdown on data addressing these concerns," Mr Rose said.
"The fact we now have access to that data will assist us."
Headspace is not an emergency service, but offers a range of assistance for people between the ages of 12-25.
Story continues below 'Supporting mental health in Greater Bendigo' document.
Hope Assistance Local Tradies founder Jeremy Forbes had seen the demand for credible, accurate and localised information in the course of his advocacy.
"I think it's good for the community to be able to see the data," Mr Forbes said.
He was glad to have the monitoring system to which to refer people.
Mr Forbes said interest in HALT had increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Businesses at this time are crying out for help and assistance for their workers," he said.
As a health promotions charity, not an emergency service, HALT responded by sharing information and enabling discussions at a grassroots level.
The Castlemaine-based initiative worked with a range of businesses, organisations, community and sporting groups and other entities to raise awareness and encourage people to seek support.
Bendigo and central Victoria's Suicide Prevention Awareness Network has been compiling a list of support services and resources relevant to the region.
SPAN spokesperson Alannah McGregor said there were a range, and encouraged those at risk or supporting another person to persist in seeking help.
"Sometimes you're overwhelmed by too much choice and not knowing what is best, other times you're too overwhelmed to do the looking," Mrs McGregor said.
"Your GP is a really good start."
If you or someone you know needs help, contact:
- Lifeline - 13 11 14 and lifeline.org.au
- Suicide Call Back Service - 1300 659 467 and suicidecallbackservice.org.au
- Beyond Blue - 1300 22 4636 and beyondblue.org.au
- Bendigo Health's Regional Mental Health Triage Service - 1300 363 788
- Talk it Out - for residents in the Murray Primary Health Network area. Call 1300 022 946 or visit talkitoutmurray.org.au
If life is in danger, call 000.