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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 6 Hansard (15 May) . . Page.. 1655 ..

MRS CROSS (continuing):

Mr Deputy Speaker, the one concern that I wish to bring to members' attention today is the link between mental illness and suicide. Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that a diagnosed mental illness has been the predominant cause of suicide in Australia since detailed statistics were first collated on this in 1997.

I believe it is something of a myth to think that talking of suicide or asking someone if they feel suicidal will encourage suicide attempts-in other words, that people who are depressed may begin to think suicide is an option for them. Talking about suicide provides the opportunity for communication. Fears and difficult situations are more likely to diminish if shared. The first step in encouraging a suicidal person to live comes from talking about feelings. That first step can be the simple inquiry about whether or not the person is intending to end their life.

However, talking about suicide should always be carefully managed. The truth is that suicide can be prevented. Suicide is a permanent solution to what is usually a temporary problem. Suicidal crises can be relatively short lived if the right people, services and facilities are available. People can be helped, but there needs to be a strong commitment by government to help them.

There is a lot of misunderstanding about those who suffer from a mental illness. One of the greatest yet most unfounded fears the community has is that they are in danger from those with a mental illness, a notion that is probably fuelled by the American movie industry. Scientific studies are increasingly breaking down that misunderstanding.

One such study, conducted by the Australian Criminology Research Council in 2001, showed conclusively that people with major mental disorders, including schizophrenia, are no more likely to be violent than anyone else in their neighbourhood. While this is comforting, the study showed that those with a mental illness who also had a problem with substance abuse did pose a greater threat to safety, which highlights the growing need for a multipurpose facility that can cater for dual diagnosis.

In response to the Chief Minister's outburst, my answer-and for that matter, the proof in the pudding-is as follows: over the last seven years, the former Liberal government were responsible for I'Anson House, Hyson Green, Hennessy House and $1.6 million of programs in this year's budget. We are aware that this is a very difficulty portfolio, but this is one of the most important sectors in the community. I am sure that Mr Stanhope is now aware that it is very easy to criticise in opposition, but it is a very different thing to have your hand on the tiller. We look forward to the government's first budget.

MS MacDONALD (4.27): In rising to speak on this matter of public importance, I would like to start with my personal experience. My mother, who lives in Sydney, has manic depression, more recently called bipolar disorder. Many have been the times I have sat in doctors' and hospital waiting rooms. Many have also been the times that I have sought assistance and solutions to the problems associated with living with a person with a mental illness. I would say that many have been the times that I have been disappointed-disappointed that, for every solution that was found, there was already another problem and disappointed with the less than holistic approach of the people operating services within the mental health system. The Chief Minister said before that it is an area where there will never be enough money, and that is unfortunate.

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