Australia's leading minds on mental health have warned suicide rates could rise by up to 50 per cent in the wake of the catastrophic and prolonged economic impacts of COVID-19.
Nationally the "best case scenario" will see a 25 per cent increase in suicides with the likelihood that about 40 per cent of those will be among young people, according to projections set to be released today by Professor Ian Hickie of Sydney's Brain and Mind Centre.
Professor Hickie said the modelling indicated if the economy deteriorated further, that figure would escalate to a 50 per cent increase in the number of lives lost to suicide with rural and regional areas to be hardest hit.
For Australia as a whole this will mean between 750 and 1500 additional deaths in the next year on top of the 3000 suicide deaths that occur annually already.
Professor HIckie has warned those numbers are likely "to persist for up to five years if the economic downturn lasts more than 12 months".
Yesterday the number of confirmed COVID-19 deaths in Australia was 96.
Renowned mental health expert and former Australian of the Year Professor Patrick McGorry has called for urgent action to "flatten the curve" of suicide risk.
He has launched a stinging attack on the Federal Government's "weak" response to the nation's collectively flailing mental health compared to the arsenal of measures it has introduced to safeguard people's physical health during COVID-19.
"You have to ask the question, is a life lost to suicide worth less than a life lost to COVID-19?" Professor McGorry said.
"If you look at the behaviour of government, you would have to say yes.
"We've turned the country upside down over the physical threat (of the virus) and sent out a few wellbeing messages about mental health.
"We have to change that."
Professor McGorry, who will join this year's virtual Albury-Wodonga Winter Solstice event on June 21, is deeply concerned by the prospect of "a significant rise in suicide" driven by the economic consequences of the pandemic.
In March crisis support service Lifeline reported its busiest month on record with almost 90,000 calls received.
"COVID-19 has highlighted how fragile and important mental health is for everyone in the community," Professor McGorry said.
"In normal disasters we know there will be a rise in 'caseness' for depression and psychosis and that at least 20 per cent of the population will be at risk - this disaster is pretty abnormal.
"Unemployment is tipped to rise to between 10 and 15 per cent and in young people that's more likely to be between 20 and 30 per cent.
"It's very important we mobilise the troops to flatten the curve of suicidal risk."
Professor McGorry said every community in Australia should be following the Border's lead and running a Winter Solstice event.
"Where is the leadership from other towns and cities - people have lost loved ones in every community in Australia," he said.
The director of lobby group Australians For Mental Health also called on state and federal governments to move their mental health plans beyond the "soft and superficial" ahead of National Cabinet talks on the matter next week.
"With mental health we love to retreat to wellbeing messages about sleeping and eating well and getting enough exercise," Professor McGorry lamented
"It more or less stops there. There is no ramping up of any kind and we don't use critical language around illness or preventing deaths."
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