We’re all familiar with drink-driving campaigns targeting young people. Surprisingly, however, the single biggest killer of young people has nothing to do with substance abuse or road safety. Suicide takes the lives of more young Australians than any other cause, according to figures from Australian Bureau of Statistics and the National Health Survey*.

It’s a shocking statistic, so it is vital to consider how so many deaths could be averted. “These deaths should be preventable,” said Warren Mahoney, general manager of Youth Focus, a suicide prevention not for profit organisation for young people in Western Australia.

“People get to the point where they feel there’s no hope or future without seeking any support. The majority of people who commit suicide generally haven’t sought help in the previous 12 months. They really suffer in silence.”

Young West Australians are at particular risk. “The suicide rate in this state is higher than the national average,” explained Warren. “There’s economic pressures, the impact of fly-in fly-out rosters [to work in the mines] on individuals and families, we’ve also seen a significant increase in our population in recent years because of the buoyant job market. There’s a lack of appropriate services to support those in need.”

Youth Focus is working to turn this silent epidemic around. With seven offices throughout the state and a presence in almost a third of WA’s high schools, the organisation offers free ongoing counselling to young people in need of help. “Our services are free,” said Warren. “They’re unlimited in time, and you can have as many sessions as you need. If it’s six sessions it’s six, and if it’s 50 it’s 50.  On average our clients are supported for around six months.”

The organisation offers young people access to high-quality counselling from a pool of about 40 mental health professionals. “They’re really the best you can get,” Warren said. “If you were going into a private practice, they’d be paying up to $180 a session, but with us it’s all for free.”

To combat the stigma often associated with mental health issues, young people don’t need a doctor’s referral to gain access to these services. Instead, young people can access the service through their school or directly through one of Youth Focus’ offices. “You don’t need a diagnosis,” Warren said. “The referral pathway is really simple: kids don’t need to go through a GP. They don’t need to get a formal diagnosis.”

The charity aims not only to combat suicide in the short term, but to provide young people with strategies for dealing with depression throughout their lifetime. “The idea is that we build young people’s internal resilience,”Warren explained.  “We don’t focus on their deficits. We give them a mental toolkit to work through it. How do they identify their stress points or their triggers? How do they de-escalate really quickly? How do we give them the capacity to deal with it now, but also to deal with possible other episodes in their future?”

Youth Focus provides a crucial suicide-prevention service through early intervention for young people suffering depression, yet it largely depends on the generosity of donors and corporate partners. A recent grant from Coca-Cola means the organisation can continue offering free counselling services to young people and their families.

“This money helps us maintain services, and because the service is completely free and of a really high quality, it’s an expensive to business,” said Warren. “We have the best professionals you could get. You would think that it’s a fundamental health issue, but it’s not supported that way by the Government sector. It’s grossly underserviced across the board. So we’re really unique.”

To find out more about the organisation and to lend your support to Youth Focus, visit youthfocus.com.au

*Youth Suicide Statistics - Headspace