Knox school suicide risk program axed

VICTORIA'S state-funded school suicide prevention program is set to be axed in the middle of next year in a move that has shocked one the nation's most prominent psychiatrists.

The University of Melbourne's professor of youth mental health, Patrick McGorry, said the move to shut down the School Focused Youth Service was "irresponsible" and would leave a bigger vacuum in mental health.

"This is just adding to the neglect," Professor McGorry said. "I'm just gobsmacked that the state government would be doing this. It just beggars belief.

"They seem to be cutting in the most critical areas in mental health. The state government is clearly walking away from young people here."

The School Focused Youth Service — set up in 1998 in response to the Kennett government's Suicide Prevention Taskforce — is the responsibility of the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development and the Department of Human Services.

The service is designed to reduce suicide through prevention and early intervention programs.

A Knox Council spokeswoman said most schools in Knox had taken part in the service, which the council runs with a grant from the Victorian government.

Chief executive officer of Eastern Melbourne Medicare Local (EMML) Kristen Michaels said it was essential the school-based programs continued in some form after June 2013, especially in the outer east.

"Statistically, there are higher rates of mental illness in these areas," she said.

"We already have concerns about how young people link with mainstream youth health services.

"The SFYS have been so important in capturing these kids within their school environment."

Ms Michaels said the funding cut would only put more pressure on the soon-to-open Melbourne Outer East headspace, which the EMML will run out of the Knox Ozone precinct. It is expected to open next month.

"Headspace is only as strong as the other programs that work with it, and the SFYS provided that important link to school-based mental health programs," Ms Michaels said.

Education Minister Martin Dixon said his department was "developing more effective responses" for at-risk youths following the release of the state government's Protecting Victoria's Vulnerable Children Inquiry.

Mr Dixon said the government was discussing the issue with the Municipal Association of Victoria, the Victorian Council of Social Services and the Youth Affairs Council of Victoria.

"The material gathered in the course of these discussions will form the basis of forward planning for more effective and contemporary strategies, in a whole of government context for responding to young people at risk."

Knox Council's community services director Kerry Stubbings said the council would urge the state government to continue to fund the SFYS. She said local government was well placed to foster links and co-ordinate service provision between agencies and schools.

Professor McGorry called on the Baillieu government to re-examine its decision.

"We know that in any given year, 25 per cent of kids will experience mental ill health and across the whole transition to adulthood, it's about 50 per cent.

"The mental ill health that lies behind the suicide is nearly always treatable or resolvable.

"If they get the right sort of support and help to get them through that period and also get more definitive treatment, then the risk passes and they can get on with their lives.

"They really need to reconsider or at least answer the question: what are they going to put in its place?"

If you or someone you know may be at risk, you can find help at Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 224636.

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