Reaching out to those in distress at Gap Park

June 8, 2016

As a nation we are talking more openly about mental illness and suicide because we recognise that we can’t solve problems that we refuse to acknowledge.

There is less discussion about people who come back from the edge and get a second chance at life, including those from Gap Park in Watsons Bay.

But our local police tell us that people can be encouraged away from the path of self harm and are often grateful that someone intervened.

Intervention at Gap Park includes marathon negotiations - in one case, police spent 15 hours supporting and eventually convincing someone to come back behind the fence.

Gap Park is the place where more people take their life than anywhere else in Australia.

Many of us remember the Angel of the Gap, Don Ritchie, who lived nearby. He approached troubled strangers at Gap Park, asking with a warm smile, “Is there something I can do to help you?” His care and concern saved many.

While technology can never replace the warmth of a person, innovation is allowing us to reach out to those who are contemplating self-harm.

That’s why the Coalition Government is funding the installation of a High Definition CCTV Camera at Gap Park and a connected workstation monitored by our local police.

It will allow earlier, more targeted intervention by emergency services and is part of a project to reduce the number of preventable suicides there.

A suicide attempt is often the act of desperation of someone who has not received the help they need, so we must also invest our efforts and money much earlier in this tragic timeline.

The more we talk about mental health and suicide, the more people are encouraged to seek help. We need the right facilities available when they find they do so.

Last week I was proud to open the newest headspace in Bondi Junction. The Coalition Government funds headspace to help young people tackle mental illness with the kind of support they need: non-judgemental, confidential and sympathetic.

There is no criticism, no tough questions, no confrontation, just down-to-earth love and support that changes lives. It’s a remarkable institution – although it’s much too fun to be an institution.

In some cases, mental illness is linked to drug use. Of grave concern, is that ice use in Australia is at high levels and increasing.

St Vincent’s Hospital in Darlinghurst has the greatest number of emergency department presentations and admissions related to methamphetamines in NSW.

That is why my Government has committed $6.32 million for local drug and alcohol rehabilitation services in Central and Eastern Sydney to help combat ice as part of a $300 million national plan.

This will reduce demand for ice by helping rehabilitation services get addicts off this devastating drug.

Mental illness places an enormous burden on our community.

That’s why we overhauled the mental health system to enable a focus on individual care plans, moving support and services out of Canberra and to the regions, putting people at the centre of care.

Our plan includes online and telephone one-stop-shops that direct people to appropriate services as we move away from the "one-size-fits-all" approach.

And it provides integrated care plans for people with complex needs, to ensure they get the right help without knocking on so many doors.

I know we have the willpower to change the statistics of suicide and mental illness. I am also confident that we are now employing the right measures to do so.

And if we can be more open like Don Ritchie and ask the people around us, “Is there something I can do to help you?” I know we can reduce the impact of mental illness.

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