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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2004 Week 7 Hansard (30 July) . . Page.. 3049..


Suicide and self-harm prevention and management

MS MacDONALD (3.21): I move the motion standing in my name on the notice paper relating to the management of mental health issues, which reads:

That this Assembly:

(1) recognises that a significant number in our community are resorting to methods of self-harm as a means of coping with the stresses they face;

(2) expresses concern that suicide attempts and other self-inflicted injuries account for almost 15% of admissions to public hospital emergency departments;

(3) notes the integral role that support services, educational programs and members of the community play in assisting those suffering mental illness to cope, manage and overcome the troubles they are facing;

(4) acknowledges the progress the ACT Government has made in addressing mental health issues;

(5) notes the importance of ongoing research into suicide and self-harm prevention and management; and

(6) identifies that better knowledge and management of mental health is an important foundation for sound future mental health.

I appreciate this opportunity to bring to the attention of the Assembly a worrying trend of deliberate self-harm within our community. Alarmingly, both self-harm and suicide have been steadily on the increase since the 1950s across the world such that it has been estimated that tens of thousands self-harm or put themselves at risk each year. Lifeline Canberra took 18,000 calls last year, with more than 1,500 calls related to suicide. The service had a 50 per cent increase in suicide related calls from June till December last year and has reported that a call related to self-harm would be taken at least twice a day, if not more.

It has been recognised that practices of self-harm are sometimes precursors to suicide and it is vital that research into and management of self-harm be both continued and developed. Self-harm covers a range of practices but is mostly represented in hospitals by deliberate overdoses and other actions to injure oneself. Generally, it has been identified that what leads many to self-harm is a complex matrix of factors. For most, however, self-harm represents release, an avenue through which to contain or control the distressing feelings being suffered. By directing this anger and confusion towards their body, self-harmers find a sense of relief and control over their pain. In 2002, the ABC's 7.30 Report explored this face of self-harm through Cooma inmate Paul Marshall who has also published his experiences on self-harm over the past decade. Marshall describes self-harm as being like a drug. He comments:

You have it enough times, you've got to keep doing it to feel normal ... especially when feeling lonely or just really caged in and no-one to talk to. When I used to cut myself, it was like releasing the dirt I was feeling at the time.

Psychologist Gavin Wesson, commenting on Marshall's condition, noted that, in a closely monitored environment, acts of self-harm could be quickly identified and managed. The problem in the greater community is that it cannot be easily identified and traditionally could not be effectively managed. As a result, at face value a person can be considered happy and healthy but at the same time may be grappling with any number of mental disorders without any support.


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