Men's mental health

Suicidal behaviour among men could be up to three times higher than previously estimated.

New data from the Beyond the Emergency national study has painted a more detailed picture of suicidality among Australian men.

The study, facilitated by Beyond Blue, funded by the Movember Foundation and led by Turning Point and Monash University, looked at the scale and nature of ambulance call outs to men with acute mental health issues, self-harm or suicidal behaviour.

The three-year research program found that each day ambulances attended an average of 82 men who had either tried to take their own lives or were having serious thoughts about doing so.

National suicide figures show, on average, six men take their lives in Australia each day.

Beyond Blue CEO Georgie Harman said the research highlights the urgent need for system reform.

“It draws out the complex nature of the challenges that confront our paramedics and their patients,” Ms Harman said.

“We must stop the revolving door of acute presentations to hospital emergency departments by valuing and investing more in community-based supports and alternative pathways to deal with immediate crisis.”

The research found ambulances attended 30,197 men who had thoughts of suicide or had attempted suicide between July 2015 and June 2016.

However, data based on presentations to hospital emergency departments only identified around 10,000 male cases annually.

The discrepancy in numbers is thought to be because hospital emergency department data is typically only able to record one reason for each presentation so the primary reason may not be listed as related to mental health. For example, physical injury following a suicide attempt may only be captured in the data as a physical injury.

Turning Point and Monash University Professor Dan Lubman, who led the research project, said we need better options for men who are in suicidal crisis.

“If they don’t have life-threatening injuries they shouldn’t be at emergency departments, yet paramedics feel they have too few alternatives,” Professor Lubman said.

“Our paramedics need more support and people with acute mental health issues or who feel suicidal need better models of care.”

Researchers analysed paramedic clinical records, conducted an online survey of 1,230 paramedics, had in-depth interviews with 73 paramedics and interviewed 30 men who had used ambulance services for mental health and suicide-related issues.

Results showed only 14% of paramedics reported comprehensive training for mental health cases and some found it difficult to identify mental health issues when alcohol and drugs were involved.