10,000Kms & 3,128 suicides

Tont and Leanne were interviewed by Neil Mitchell on return.

By Michael Doran

Ten thousand steps a day is the magic number on most people’s pedometer. Spare a thought for Liane and Tony Drummond who have been walking around 30,000 steps a day for the last year.

Their trek, dubbed the Walk for Sunshine, has been to raise awareness of the continuing growth in Australia’s suicide rate and the derelict funding for the sector.

Before moving interstate, the couple had worked in community education and health services in the Yarra Valley and lived in Yarra Junction.

“I started the walk with pretty low expectations of what we could achieve but am surprised by how many people have stopped us along the way to talk about suicide,” Leanne said.

The Drummond’s passion for this project was born out of the tragic loss of their son, David, aka Sunshine, to suicide two years ago.

“Our walk tells us that people want to talk about how suicide has touched them but then feel powerless to do anything else about it,” Leanne said.

“My sense is that many times it reaches crisis point before people try to access services and then the real struggle for a bed or even community based help begins.”

Mental health services in the Yarra Valley fall under the wing of Eastern Health and Michelle Fleming, Manager, Community Health, said they offer a range of treatment programs in Yarra Junction and Healesville.

“Suicide is an issue which affects people from all walks of life,” she said. “Communities such as Healesville and surrounding areas are no exception.”

“Through our Community Health programs we have a range of free treatment and counselling services for issues such as anxiety, depression, grief and other family or relationship problems.”

Mental Health Program Director for Eastern Health, Lisa Shaw-Stuart, said “Eastern Health provides assessment and interventions for people experiencing severe mental illness.”

“Our clinicians provide hospital based, community and specialist services for all ages across the region,” she said. Information on these services can be accessed at 1300 130 381.

There has been no shortage of campaigns on mental health, particularly on men, and this has helped to reduce the stigma that has surrounded the issue.

However Leanne said that whilst getting people to talk about the issue and open-up is a good thing, the health system is not keeping pace.

“We have done an amazing job of getting mental health out there as an issue but there is no plan about how to treat people in need.”

“It is almost like a class system for illness; heart attacks, road trauma, breast cancer all get plenty of funding but not so for mental health treatment or crisis services.”

In 2017, 3,128 people took their own lives, 9% more than the previous year. In the 15-44 age groups suicide is the leading cause of death and accounts for 36% of deaths in the 15 to 24 group.

The Drummonds are taking their cause to Canberra and have meetings arranged with Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, Minister for Indigenous Health Ken Wyatt and the health spokesperson from the Labour and Green parties.

Leanne made requests to meet with the relevant Victorian state politicians but either got no reply or was told “they were too busy to meet.”

If you or someone you know requires support contact Lifeline on 131 114 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.

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