Victoria’s Mental Health Minister was warned about two suicides linked to job losses that occurred during Melbourne’s fourth lockdown last year.
Victoria’s Mental Health Minister was warned about two suicides linked to job losses that occurred during Melbourne’s fourth lockdown this year, documents show.
The state’s fourth “circuit-breaker” coronavirus lockdown was ordered on Thursday, May 27, and was lifted on June 10.
Victoria would go on to lockdown twice more – the fifth lockdown from July 16 to July 27, with the sixth starting on August 5 and lasting for more than two months.
James Merlino was informed of the tragic deaths by his department in early June 2021 in a two-page ministerial briefing note, which also alerted him to a rise in youth self-harm incidents, hospital presentations and suicidal ideation, The Australian reports.
The document, headlined “Minister for Mental Health – regular meeting”, informed Mr Merlino of “potential risks” of the shutdown and raised nine “key issues” driving the state’s mental health crisis.
“From 11.59pm on Thursday, 27 May, 2021, Victoria moved to circuit-breaker restrictions, its fourth lockdown since the start of the pandemic. These lockdown measures could again have an adverse effect on mental health,” the document said.
“CCOV (Coroners Court of Victoria) has advised the department that there have been two suicides following the recent lockdown in the context of loss of employment.”
The notes state that the Coroners Court had evidence that almost 10 per cent of suicides in the first year of the pandemic showed “explicit evidence of a Covid-related stressor (called ‘Covid-linked suicides’)”.
Among the nine key issues raised in the briefing note, officials warned calls to crisis and support helpline services “continue to remain substantially above 2019”, mental health emergency department presentations for children were “substantially higher than 2020 and significantly higher than 2019”, and intentional self-harm and suicidal presentations for all ages were “increasing and remain above both 2019 and 2020 levels”.
Opposition mental health spokeswoman Emma Kealy obtained the documents under a Freedom of Information request.
“That Daniel Andrews’ Mental Health Minister was told Covid restrictions had led Victorians to take their own life, yet did nothing, is a disturbing reflection the Labor government wilfully ignored the wellbeing of Victorian citizens, despite having the power to save lives,” Ms Kealy told The Australian.
There are around two suicides every day in Victoria, or about 700 every year.
However, suicides are at their lowest rates since 2017. The briefing notes provided to Mr Merlino suggested the reason overall suicide rates had remained steady despite the mental health crisis was the range of state and federal financial assistance such as JobKeeper.
“Any Victorian life lost to suicide is a tragedy, but it is relieving to see Victoria’s suicide rates are at their lowest rate since 2017,” a spokeswoman for Mr Merlino said in a statement.
“Since June, we have invested more than $42 million to specifically respond to extra pressures the global pandemic has placed on people’s wellbeing.”
Last week, Premier Daniel Andrews described his government’s pandemic response as a “triumph”.
Melbourne this year earned the dubious honour of becoming the world’s most locked down city, after spending a cumulative total of 260 days under stifling Covid-19 restrictions.
Victoria has also recorded 1385 deaths with the virus – more than double NSW’s toll of 632 – accounting for two thirds of Australia’s total deaths.
“It’s a triumph in terms of what government in partnership with the community can do,” Mr Andrews said in an interview with left-wing podcast Socially Democratic, hosted by former Labor campaigner Stephen Donnelly.
“We’ve got some people who just can’t find it in themselves to say, ‘Well done.’”
Mr Andrews conceded there had been mistakes, but was not pressed by Donnelly to name specific policies.
“I wouldn’t want anyone to think that we regard our pandemic response across the board as having been perfect – of course it wasn’t,” he said. “There are things that if you could go back and change them, you would.”
He also said his daily press conferences attracted TV audiences political leaders before the pandemic could only dream of.
“The audiences were just absolutely phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal,” he said.
“They gave me some audience numbers at one point, which is, you know, wonderfully helpful, to know that you’re you know, talking to a million people, live.”