Victorian Coroner warns of ‘staggering’ suicide rate as investigation launched into Whittlesea deaths

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Victorian Coroner warns of ‘staggering’ suicide rate as investigation launched into Whittlesea deaths.

By Kristian Silva

Victoria’s Coroner has warned of the “staggering” increase of male suicide within the state, calling on the community to do more to support those battling mental health issues.

John Cain, a former state prosecutor who was appointed Coroner in 2019, said there were a total of 726 deaths by suicide in Victoria last year.

This was up from 537 in 2010, he told ABC Radio Melbourne.

Judge Cain said three-quarters of suicides were men, and that of the suicides in 2019 the largest demographic group were men aged 45 to 54.

“It’s a hard group to tackle, to identify causes, and to assist them,” he said.

In 2019, Victoria’s road toll jumped by 50 to 263 — figures that provoked outcry in the community.

Judge Cain said there had not been a similar level of community concern for the rise of deaths by suicide which he described as “staggering” and “really troubling”.

While he said there was “really good work” being done by government and support services, he said more needed to be done within the community.

“Isolated people are at greater risk. If you identify people who are isolated take some time, talk to them, help them through,” he said.

Are we too silent about male suicide?

Do blokes need to speak up more? Or does the responsibility rest on society as a whole?

Joining Virginia in the studio is Victorian Coroner John Cain, giving us an insight into the sobering statistics surroundings male suicide, and what we can do to help.

He said those at most risk had experienced family or personal crisis, or suffered from unemployment or financial problems.

Judge Cain’s comments come weeks after Australia’s new deputy chief medical officer was appointed with her role to focus on the mental health impact of the pandemic.

Modelling from the Brain and Mind Centre suggested that, in a worst-case scenario, deaths by suicide could increase nationally from about 3,000 a year to 4,500.

Investigation into suspected cluster

A young woman is silhouetted by a window, wearing a cap and hugging herself.
Police were so concerned about the deaths, they approached lawyers in Whittlesea who are pushing for a formal inquest.

Meanwhile, Judge Cain said there was an investigation underway into up to six suicides in the Indian community in the Whittlesea region, in Melbourne’s north.

“There are a group of women, all from similar ethnic background who have, it appears, suicided,” he said.

“Our aim at the court is to try and identify prevention opportunities.”

An investigation into a seventh death linked to the cases has been completed and found to be “a natural causes death”, Judge Cain said.

Details about the potential cluster were revealed by SBS this week, with reports some of the women had suffered family violence before their deaths in 2018 and 2019.

Chris Howse, the principal solicitor at the Whittlesea Community Connections Community Legal Service, said he was approached by senior police in the area who noticed disturbing links between the cases.

Mr Howse is calling for an inquest into the deaths of the women who he said were all mothers.

“Where you have deaths like this, the problem is there’s a likelihood more women are going to die,” he said.

“That’s why we must deal with the story and find some solutions and antidotes.”

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