21 Mar | '2023
Suicide continues to be the leading cause of death for young Australians. Last year, 402 young Australian lives were lost to suicide. Half of all the mental health conditions we experience at some point in our lives will have started by age 14, and over 75 per cent of mental health problems occur before the age of 25. It’s very sobering. One in 10 young people aged 12 to 17 will self-harm. One in 13 will seriously consider a suicide attempt. One in 40 will attempt suicide.
There is hope though. There are organisations across the country that provide free help and support to Australians who need it most. For more than 30 years yourtown’s Kids Helpline has been one of those organisations, providing counselling, guidance and support 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For many young people, Kids Helpline has saved their life. It has been someone to talk to when there was no-one else to talk to, someone to listen to when there was no-one else who would understand, and something to support when you had all but given up.
Kids Helpline continues to play an integral role in our mental health system not only due to its role in supporting Australians aged 5 to 25 but also due to the ease of accessibility, particularly for those living in rural, regional and remote Australia. Before we had computers in our pocket, young people could access support from Kids Helpline through a phone, home mobile or even a payphone. You didn’t need to see a doctor or need a reference; you could just dial 1800551800 and there would be someone on the other end of the phone to talk to. Then, as technology advanced, so too did Kids Helpline, who launched their online platform, making it easier for young people to seek the support they need.
The incredible work undertaken by Kids Helpline and many other mental health organisations was crucial during the pandemic. While we worried about the economy, the spread of the virus and preventing mass unemployment and death, children and young people were sometimes forgotten. Sure, they could still go to school from home, but many of them were not able to see their friends and continue their social development. And, for some, their home life deteriorated, something they weren’t able to escape, due to the lockdowns. Having a service like Kids Helpline meant they could still seek support from the privacy of their phone or their computer. In the 2021-22 financial year over 443,000 children and young people across Australia contacted Kids Helpline. I want to take a moment to thank each and every person who currently works at Kids Helpline or has ever worked there. The work you do is changing lives across our country and is saving lives across our country. We won’t know the full extent of the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on our children and young people, but we know that with organisations like Kids Helpline there’ll always be someone to talk to if they need it. Providing early support is vital to help children and young people get back on track and to minimise long-term impacts.
I also want to mention the work of the previous coalition government and the funding that we provided to Kids Helpline to help them continue with their crucial work. In 2021 we provided yourtown’s Kids Helpline with a $26.8 million investment to continue its support for the mental health and wellbeing of children and young Australians. Under the coalition, funding for mental health and suicide prevention services increased to a record $6.8 billion in 2022 and 2023, more than double what it was in 2012-13. We are committed to making mental health and suicide prevention a national priority and delivering better outcomes for all Australians.
I’m disappointed that in less than 12 months of being in government Labor have already slashed mental health services, reducing the number of psychologist sessions annually under Medicare from 20 to 10. This is disgraceful. But we shouldn’t expect anything less from a government that sells lies and half-truths to get elected, given they cut mental health funding the last time they were in government and they’ve done it again. I call on the Albanese government to do more in the mental health space, including providing funding to Kids Helpline and similar organisations to ensure our children and young people are not left behind. 402 lives lost is 402 too many. We need to do more to support young Australians, who are the future of our country. I want to again thank the life-saving work of Kids Helpline and the many other organisations that also support our children and young people across Australia.