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Lifeline Forced to Close in the Northern Territory, Australia’s Suicide Hotspot

Suicide rates in the Northern Territory are the highest in the nation, and nearly double the national average.
10 October 2016, 12:00am

Highway One, Northern Territory. Image via Flickr user Tony Bowden

After 10 years of supporting vulnerable people with mental health concerns, Lifelinewill close its office in the Northern Territory's Top End. This comes after successive attempts to lobby the Northern Territory government for more money have failed, leaving the Darwin-based centre with an unbreachable hole in their budget.

The closure is puzzling because, according to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Northern Territory is the suicide capital of Australia. Suicide rates there are the highest in the nation, and nearly double the national average. The standardised death rate for suicide in Australia in 2015 was 12.6 deaths per 100 000 persons, while the death rate for suicide in the Northern Territory was 21 deaths per 100 000.

The Northern Territory also has a high Indigenous population, and the highest Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide rate of all jurisdictions. The suicide rate of children in the Northern Territory is also abnormally high; data released in August showed that when all child suicide deaths are combined for the years 2011 to 2015, the Northern Territory reported the highest jurisdictional rate of child deaths due to suicide, with 13.6 deaths per 100 000 persons. All other states and territories reported rates ranging from 1.6 to 3.1 deaths per 100 000.

Although a Lifeline centre will continue to run in Alice Springs, there are no other similar mental health organisations in the Top End where the volunteers can contribute their services. There are 35 trained counsellors currently volunteering at the Darwin Lifeline centre, but presumably their skills will now go elsewhere.

For Lifeline Top End's chairman Andy Warton, the difference between having a physical Lifeline office and callers being directed to a national phone line is profound.

"This means there'll no longer be volunteers out and about in the community, showing their faces at community events," he told VICE.

He also explains that the centre's closure will put strain on other states and territories. "The thing about the service up here is it was part of a national network," he said.

"Telephone services made to the main Lifeline number get answered right across Australia. the fact we're closing here in NT means other states will have to pick up the phone. And not every call is answered, that's the reality. We received over a million calls last year, and couldn't answer all of them."

The Northern Territory government has assured those concerned that Lifeline services will continue to help local people in need of counselling, via the national phone line service.

"Lifeline in the Northern Territory will not be interrupted. The Northern Territory Government is still negotiating with Lifeline Australia," the Northern Territory's Health Minister Natasha Fyles said in a statement.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, suicide rates in Australia are currently standing at a 10-year high. The standardised death rate for suicide in 2015 was 12.6 deaths per 100,000 persons.

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For support with issues raised in this article, please call Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14