Suicide rate

One of the arguments against publishing State and national road tolls is that they reduce the victims of road crashes to a statistic.
When a fatality becomes a number in the evening news we can lose sight of the wider trauma that crashes unleash on families and communities.
But government departments collect numbers anyway and they report them widely in order to raise public awareness about road safety and to make decisions about policing and infrastructure spending. The same cannot be said for suicide statistics.
They are collected but for many reasons, including the delay in verifying statistics and concerns about inappropriate public attention, they are not reported widely.
As a consequence a serious public health issue has a very low profile.
Last year just under 1300 people were killed in road crashes in Australia.
The most up-to-date suicide toll says 2361 people took their own life in 2010.
Just how many were registered in the Strathalbyn district is not known and is the subject of local dispute.
Both 2010 and 2011 were low points in Strathalbyn’s social life.
A number of local people took their own lives and there was a real anxiety in the community about the mental health of residents and mental health services available.
A task force of health professionals, government representatives and community members was formed in response to those concerns.
Country Health SA says that group was never set up to investigate suicide rates.
It was only there to help the community through the perceived threat.
But what it found – and reported – was that the anxiety was real and needed to be addressed but the suicide numbers themselves were not a problem, compared with other SA communities.
Strathalbyn GP Jim Wilhelm completely rejects that finding.
He claims that the group used old information and their “local monitoring” failed to consult local doctors.
According to the tally of just one practice, nine people took their own lives and 11 others tried to in just two years.
Dr Wilhelm says those statistics alone should be sounding alarm bells among authorities but he cannot find anyone willing to listen.
Suicide is a complex health issue that goes beyond statistics. However, when it comes to policy, strategy and resources, the numbers count because that’s what authorities look at to justify decisions.
It should be a concern to Country Health SA, the task group and the Alexandrina Council that a local GP claims the numbers are wrong.