In Australia, 10 times more people die from suicide than from AIDS – more that 2,000 a year. Among young Australians the rate of suicide is about 16 per 100,000, making it one of the leading causes of death in young people. Australian research shows that about 10% of young people have attempted suicide at some stage in their lives. Many of these young people are surviving their suicide attempts purely by chance and many not ever be admitted to hospital. The chances of a second attempt at suicide are greatly increased, as are the chances of it succeeding.
There are a number of possible measures to prevent suicide. The most important is to prevent those who have already attempted suicide from repeating the attempt. This necessitates good management of suicide attempters in general hospitals and by general practitioners, and good aftercare in outpatient or or in-patient mental health care, although these facilities are often lacking or overloaded. Potential suicide candidates may be provided with easy access to affordable mental health care. Informal care within local villages and communities is crucial in preventing persons at risk from becoming isolated and depressed. The success of suicide prevention depends to a great extent upon whether authorities can promote healthy attitudes towards mental health. Prevention strategies need to focus on the reasons why so many people fail to cope with the pressures of everyday life. Individually people need support to find out what their problems are and assistance to work through those problems and not see suicidal behaviour as an option.
Evidence from around the world suggests that people reach out for help in the months prior to a suicide. Many cities have developed telephone help lines for those under stress and considering suicide.
In the two or three months prior to attempting or completing suicide, somewhere between 60% to 80% of people reach out to a health professional. This suggests that the family doctor is a valuable resource in the 'frontline' of suicide prevention. The Australian Keep Yourself Alive programme encourages general practitioners (GPs) to recognize the warning signs shown by young people at risk of suicide. The training team holds workshops and has produced a multimedia pack as a training resource for more than 3,000 Australian GPs, increasing their awareness of the mental and emotional health of young people and the methods by which they can be helped. They are also helped in their care for families affected by suicide – particularly important since GPs are often the only health professional around to assist a grieving family in rural areas, where their is a much higher suicide rate.