BY JULIETTE CAPOMOLLA
National suicide prevention adviser to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Christine Morgan, has developed a number of reforms since her appointment in July 2019, but there is still a lot of work to be done.
Ms Morgan works with the national suicide prevention taskforce, which has been charged with Vision 2030 for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, and reports her findings to the Prime Minister.
Since her appointment, Ms Morgan has overseen the National Mental Health Commission in leading the National Mental Health and Wellbeing Pandemic Response Plan and has helped launch the #YouCanTalk campaign earlier this year.
This campaign encourages everyday Australians to become equipped with the tools they need to help tackle suicide prevention within their communities.
Monash University Associate Professor in the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine Charles Livingstone said the position of an adviser may be insufficient to cause any real change.
“Appointing an adviser suggests that government is aware of the problem with suicide, and may be engaged in dealing with it more effectively,” Dr Livingstone said.
“The appointment of the adviser may have provided an opportunity to expend the way government thinks about suicide, and to develop a genuine whole government approach to the issues that lead to poor mental health and to suicide,” he said.
“However, without significant resources and political clout it’s hard to see how this position can achieve its goals.”
According to Dr Livingstone, the government’s current approach is unclear.
“It is also not clear how the advice from the adviser is channelled to the Department of Health, if indeed it is.”
Coupled with Ms Morgan’s role, the government needs to adjust its entire approach to suicide prevention, Dr Livingstone suggested.
“An appropriate whole-of-government approach would consider the factors that drive increased stress, and are associated with aggravating mental health conditions,” he said.
“My view is that without explicitly pointing out this, the adviser and the government are not likely to make inroads into suicide prevention.
“Much better provision of resources for mental health services is important and necessary but may at present be more ameliorative than preventive in many cases.”
Dr Livingstone is in support of a stronger measure to promote suicide prevention which has some political power.
He suggested appointing a senior minister with responsibility for suicide prevention, and a broad remit to engage across relevant portfolios, as an appropriate response.
“However, an effective response may also require the government to abandon some of its shibboleths around industrial relations regulation, provision of adequate income to social security recipients, including the unemployed, and a significant boost to public mental health services,” Dr Livingstone said.
A Department of Health spokesperson said mental health and suicide prevention is a national priority for the government.
“In her initial advice to the Prime Minister, Ms Morgan advocated for a fundamental shift in the approach to the prevention of suicide and self-harm,” the spokesperson said.
“In January 2020, the Australian Government invested $64 million in suicide prevention and mental health initiatives as an early response to initial advice from the national suicide prevention adviser.
“Ms Morgan continues to engage with government and the community on suicide prevention initiatives and reform, and has been providing advice to government on suicide prevention challenges as part of pandemic responses.”
Currently, Ms Morgan is working on providing final recommendations and advice to the Prime Minister in a report due in December.
When asked about the appropriateness of appointing a National Suicide Prevention Minister, the department did not comment.