How to save 500 teen lives from suicide
A boost in the number of school counsellors in regional areas combined with other mental health interventions would help stop hundreds of youth suicides in NSW.
Modelling from Sydney University's Brain and Mind Centre has found social connectedness and safety programs alone - which include school counselling - would help save 537 lives across the state in the decade to 2031.
The number of prevented suicide would increase to 2362, or 22.9 per cent of deaths, during that ten-year period if the most effective combination of five mental health interventions, includes post-attempt care, technology-enabled care co-ordination and family psychoeducation, were implemented statewide.
BMC health and policy co-director Professor Ian Hickie said schools and school counsellors are critical to keeping post-COVID suicide rates down - particularly in rural and regional NSW.
"You often have clusters of self harm or difficulties within schools," he said.
"Schools are the critical social scaffolding to help follow up with young people so they need to be engaged with health.
"Often emergency departments and acute care facilities are hundreds of miles away from where the kid is actually living. But the school is likely to be local."
Interventions defined as safety planning and social connectedness, which relate to school counsellors, would have the biggest impact on Western NSW, Nepean Blue Mountains and Murrumbidgee Primary Health Network areas.
North Sydney Health Network would see a 6.1 per cent reduction in suicides with an increase in social connectedness programs which included school counsellors.
The report, obtained exclusively by The Sunday Telegraph, has also found general mental health awareness campaigns that are not back up by actual services can actually increase suicide rates in some areas.
As awareness campaigns have increasing overall, demand for an already stretched mental health sector has seen those with acute needs forced to wait longer for services while people with lower needs are absorbed into the system.
The Sunday Telegraph is calling on the NSW Government to increase the number of school counsellors in NSW to one for every 500 students - a number that the government agreed to in principle in 2018 but never delivered.
The current ratio is about 1:750.
"Many people have realised that there was a crisis pre-COVID and that COVID has brought many of these issues to the fore," Prof Hickie said.
Prof Hickie called on both the state and federal governments to take urgent action on mental health.
Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said that for young people a "varied and accessible support network is the best response".
"This is what is in place in our public schools," she said.
"Mental health is a community-wide response. We will continue to equip our schools to be as responsive as possible; however, the reality is students are at school for a limited time each day and need community wide individual and holistic support.
"We are hiring more counsellors and on track to meet our election commitment with another stream beginning work in our schools next year."
Ms Mitchell also said that these staff "are highly specialised, taking more than five years to become accredited and must be both certified teachers and psychologists".
"We are ahead of schedule in our delivery of student support officers," she said.
Originally published as How to save 500 teen lives from suicide