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Local psychologists “not surprised” regional Australians more likely to be impacted by suicide

By Charmayne Allison

Greater Shepparton psychologists say new statistics revealing regional Australians are more likely to be impacted by suicide than their metropolitan counterparts are “concerning but not surprising”.

The research showed regional Australians impacted by suicide were more likely to experience multiple losses of family, friends and community members (67 per cent) compared with their city counterparts (60 per cent).

The findings have also revealed growing concerns the economy, jobs, cost of living and drug and alcohol use will increase suicide rates in the regions in the wake of COVID-19.

Pure Empowerment director Rachael Willis said these results, drawn from a YouGov poll commissioned by Suicide Prevention Australia, were consistent with existing mental health research.

“Suicide rates are higher in regional communities for a combination of reasons,” she said.

“There can be added stigma around seeking help, as well as financial stress, social isolation and economic change leading to financial insecurity and vulnerability.”

Stoic, masculine attitudes and rural ideologies promoting a strong work ethic and “rugged individualism” could also prevent locals from seeking help, Ms Willis said.

“Most at risk are males, including youth and farmers over 55 years of age,” she said.

“Older adults over 65 years of age and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are also high-risk groups.”

The latest figures came as no surprise to Shepparton clinical psychologist Dr Shanel Few, who said droughts, floods and fires also placed regional communities at greater risk.

“Knowing someone who has taken their own life also puts us at increased risk of suicide — so given we are exposed to more loved ones dying, this has a flow-on effect,” she said.

Dr Few said there were lengthy queues for mental health support and a stark shortage in services in rural and regional areas like Shepparton.

“Stigma around suicide and mental health is also greater in regional areas compared to the city,” she said.

As for how locals could support a loved one struggling with mental health, Dr Few said it was best to simply listen.

“We don’t need to solve the problem for them, just being able to truly listen is a great start,” she said.

“If people are able to listen to our suggestions, it is great to encourage people to maintain social connections with others as well as keeping a regular routine involving quality sleep, nutrition, exercise and rest.

“Also, don’t be afraid to encourage a loved one to speak to a professional if they need support.”

Ms Willis said it was important to keep an eye out for warning signs such as disconnection, relationship breakdown, financial stressors, drug and alcohol use and an acquired ability of tolerating pain.

“It’s also important to look out for flags of ‘psych ache’,” she said.

“Feeling suicidal is like a headache, but of the emotional kind.

“We need to acknowledge and validate a person’s ‘psych ache’ and help them find options of managing the emotional pain.

“Similar to a headache, people want this pain to go away — our job is to help people to better manage their emotional distress.

“Suggest they see a GP, link them with support services and keep checking in.”

If you are struggling with your mental health, phone Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, phone 000 for emergency services.

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