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Jason Trethowan – headspace CEO Opinion Piece

The recent passing of Amy ‘Dolly’ Everett has struck a chord across Australia, with thousands of people expressing their sadness over her death and sharing messages of support to her family. Our thoughts are also with the Everett’s, Dolly’s friends and the communities to whom she was connected.

Much coverage about Dolly in the news and social media has focused on cyberbullying, shifting the focus from the loss of a young life.

The widespread exposure of the suicide of Dolly may have raised feelings of distress for some people. I would encourage anyone who is going through a tough time to seek support. Talking to a trusted relative or friend, a counsellor, GP, or online services such as Lifeline and eheadspace can help.

It is important to recognise that suicide is rarely the result of a single event or factor and is a complex and multi-faceted issue. It is usually a result of a person feeling hopeless about life due to a combination of biological, psychological and environmental factors.

It is heart breaking that any young person would feel like their only option is to end their life. Emphasis should be on supporting young people who may be experiencing similar thoughts of hopelessness. We lose far too many young Australians to suicide and we need to ensure that young people are supported and have help available so that we can prevent further tragedies.

Australian Bureau of Statistics data released in 2016, again identified suicide as the leading cause of death for school aged children. Each week we lose eight children and young people to suicide and as a country we need to continue to work together to change this.

headspace School Support teams respond to suicide notifications every week in secondary schools across Australia. headspace will be expanding its work in schools as a delivery partner, along with Early Childhood Australia, for the new mental health education initiative run by beyondblue. This initiative will help improve student understanding of mental health as well as continuing to support school communities impacted by suicide.

headspace also has 101 centres across Australia providing mental health support services to young people aged 12-25. In June 2017, the Federal Government announced that a new headspace centre will be opening in Katherine. Suicide rates of school aged children in the Northern Territory are the highest in Australia. Young people in the Northern Territory die by suicide at more than four times the rate of any other state or territory, with many of these being Aboriginal young people. Our new headspace centre will provide much-needed support and services on youth mental health and wellbeing in this remote area of the country.

Ensuring that our young people have access to youth friendly mental health services is just one part of the puzzle; it’s imperative that young people learn ways to look after their mental health and have trusted adults they can reach out to if they’re feeling distressed or overwhelmed.

I would encourage anyone supporting a young person, as well as friends, to inform themselves so that they can recognise when someone might be going through a tough time. There are a number of resources available on the headspace website, as well as from many other organisations, that provide information and advice on mental health and other topics relating to young people’s wellbeing.

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With many young people heading back to school in the coming weeks, this message is particularly timely. There will be many changes ahead for some, particularly those commencing high school, university or TAFE, or young people starting at a new school and leaving good friends behind. For some, this may be a daunting and challenging time that can impact their mental health. There are some simple ways young people can look after themselves; eating well, getting regular sleep and exercise, catch up with friends and keep up activities they enjoy.

The need for sustained efforts to support young people with mental health issues is vital; because any life lost to suicide is too many. The responsibility to reduce suicide requires ongoing investment and lies with the whole community – health professionals, friends, parents, schools and government. In collaborative and supportive efforts, we can stop this tide of preventable deaths.

Jason Trethowan 
headspace CEO the National Youth Mental Health Foundation.

If you or someone you know is struggling, visit headspace.org.au to find your nearest centre or call eheadspace on 1800 650 890.

Resources for young people can be found on headspace website here

Resources for families and friends can be found on the headspace website here

Adding help-seeking information to stories (online, print and broadcast) can provide somewhere for people who may be adversely impacted by the coverage to find professional support.

Key national youth support services:
Key national 24/7 crisis support services: