A SIX per cent rise in the rate of suicide across Australia has been labelled "devastating" by the Bathurst-based CEO of Lifeline Central West.
And there are fears the number of suicides could grow even further next year due to COVID-19's impact on the community's mental health.
Latest cause of death figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, released last Friday, showed 3318 Australians had taken their own life in 2019, up from 3138 in 2018.
Lifeline Central West chief executive officer Stephanie Robinson said the figures were devastating and even more concerning was the fact they did not include COVID-related suicides.
As someone involved in the support for those living with mental health issues, Ms Robinson is well aware of how many people are struggling.
She said Lifeline had received more calls this year than any other time in its 57-year history.
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"On Friday the news that we were dreaded was released, each year we hope for a better outcome than the last, however, this was not to be," Ms Robinson said.
"... There has been a six per cent increase in the suicide rate between the 2018 and 2019, an increase of 180 people. If we put that in context it is nearly three times the national road toll and equivalent to the entire population of a community the size of Blayney vanishing from our lives, in a year.
"It is now over nine people lost every day in Australia."
Ms Robinson said NSW had the highest number of deaths, with 937 people lost, while the rate of suicide was also up in rural and regional areas.
"One of the most concerning facts is that suicide is the second leading cause of death of our First Nations men," she said.
"The facts are, three out of four who die of suicide are men, often associated with relationship problems, problems with substance misuse, financial and job issues.
"Men aged 45-49 are most at risk so it is vital we adapt our support in these key areas."
Ms Robinson said suicide was the leading cause of death for Australians aged 30-59.
"Tragically, we also lost 19 people under the age of 14 who had their whole lives ahead of them. For young people 15-24 years of age, a third of all deaths are by suicide," she said.
"There is no easy answer, there is no one cause, however, it's time that we all stepped up and took notice of this issue.
"All too often people do not pay attention until they experience a loss and their lives are forever changed."
Ms Robinson said changing the way people spoke about mental health issues could improve the outlook.
"Maybe if people just started talking about it as a health issue, not differentiated by whether mind health or physical health," she said.
"It's a tough topic, however, it needs to be brought out of the dark, into the light."
Ms Robinson reminded everyone that help was available.
"Our volunteers are on stand by so that no one need face their darkest hour alone," she said.
"It is often incredibly difficult to reach out for help when in pain so as members of a community let's all pledge to do our part so we don't miss, dismiss or avoid the signs that someone may need support. Reach in, we have workshops that can help teach you.
"If you are someone reading this with lived experience, we acknowledge that you are incredibly brave and that if you feel alone on the tough days we are here for you. Help is available."
If you need help, phone Lifeline on 13 11 14.
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