Sparking solutions based focus on mental health

The Queensland Commissioner for Mental Health spoke to the Southern Downs community about solutions for mental health systems, processes and policies. Picture: LUCY WALDRON

By Lucy Waldron

The Queensland Commissioner for Mental Health, Ivan Frkovic, addressed an engaged audience to foster a solutions-oriented discussion on mental health systems, processes, and policies.

The event on Friday 17 May, hosted by the Southern Downs Suicide Prevention Network (SDSPN), marked their first forum and gathered numerous active members of the Southern Downs mental health community.

Maritta Hutley, President of SDSPN, emphasised the importance of grassroots efforts in driving change within the community.

“We’ve got to start somewhere, and having conversations is where we will begin,” Ms Hutley said.

“We need to start pushing on doors and reaching out to people of influence.”

The Mental Health Commissioner said the most important thing for him to be doing is providing support from a local level and explaining the information and advice circulating through the government.

“The rate of suicide in an affluent country like Australia is unacceptable,” Mr Frkovic said.

Mr Frkovic shared that while the overall number of mental health cases in Queensland has remained stable, with one in five people experiencing mental health issues annually, the prevalence among youth has nearly doubled.

“There is a positive in the data which shows Queensland’s numbers are dropping slowly while states like Victoria continue to climb as a result of Covid,” Mr Frkovic said.

“But one death by suicide is too many.”

Acknowledging the gravity of the issue, the government has invested $1.645 billion in mental health research and initiatives.

“This is the largest investment I have ever seen,” Mr Frkovic said.

“It is up to us now as public sector organisations, community groups, and individuals to work together to reduce these rates.”

The government’s initial phase focused on identifying the roles of various stakeholders in suicide prevention, including police, families, NGOs, and entire communities. The ongoing second phase aims to narrow the focus on specific affected groups.

Mr Frkovic highlighted that last year, 75 per cent of suicides in Queensland were among men around 40 years old, with the majority of men over 60 who died by suicide coming from rural and regional areas.

He also emphasised that among younger age groups, First Nations people and those who identify as LGBTQIA+ are the most affected, with suicide being the leading cause of death among First Nations peoples.

He stressed that a targeted approach to understanding and assisting these communities is essential.

“What works for Brisbane will not work for Warwick,” Mr Frkovic said.

One promising initiative discussed was the creation of “safe spaces,” modelled after successful implementations in the United Kingdom.

Frkovic suggested that local organisations and health professionals could set up these informal conversation spaces in places like coffee shops, providing a supportive environment for those in need.

The forum concluded with participants brainstorming actionable solutions to impact those seeking local mental health services positively.