"If you can buy time, you can often save a life"
Professor Robert Goldney
An international expert on suicide, Professor Robert Goldney, has been appointed the new Head of the University's Discipline of Psychiatry.
Professor Goldney is recognised as one of the world's most foremost researchers on suicide and depression, receiving a number of international awards for his work.
His most recent accolade came from the American Association of Suicidology who last month presented him with the Louis I. Dublin Award for his contribution to the field of suicide prevention. Professor Goldney is only the second Australian in the 34-year history of the award to receive the honour.
"Suicide is a very complex issue," Professor Goldney said. "We certainly don't have all the answers and we will never stop all suicides but we can do a lot towards reducing the numbers.
"It is important we take a multi-faceted approach to preventing suicide, using both standard psychiatric and psychological therapies, as well as making it harder for people to take their own lives."
He said new gun laws introduced in the wake of the Port Arthur massacre in 1996 had contributed significantly to the drop in firearm-related suicides in Australia.
Other effective measures include telephone crisis services, the prescription of anti-depressants, restricting barbiturates and ready access to substances such as pesticides, erecting barriers on bridges and discouraging sensational media reporting of suicides.
"It is logical that by alleviating risk factors there should be an impact on suicidal behaviour. If you can buy time, you can often save a life.
"Research shows that only 10% of people who have survived potentially lethal suicide attempts actually go on to commit suicide," Professor Goldney said.
He also commended organisations such as beyondblue, the national depression initiative which has helped remove the stigma of mental illness in Australia by using high-profile sportsmen and women to openly discuss their battles with depression.
Although statistics show that overall suicide rates in Australia have remained relatively consistent over the past 100 years, there
are some dramatic differences among males.
Young men (aged 15-24) have trebled their suicide rate since 1900 (due in part to access to alcohol and drugs), but the rate for older men has fallen considerably. This is attributed to a better understanding of mental illness among older people, improved treatment for physical illnesses and better social security safety nets.
Contrary to popular belief, the media plays only a minor role in terms of triggering copycat suicides, Professor Goldney said.
"The media have been unfairly used as a whipping post when it comes to their impact on people taking their own lives. Their influence accounts for only about 2% of suicides overall in the community and they may actually help prevent suicide by destigmatising depression."
Professor Goldney has enjoyed a long association with the University of Adelaide. He gained his medical degree here in 1967 and commenced psychiatry in 1969. Between 1974 and 1981 he was a lecturer in the Discipline of Psychiatry before establishing a research unit at Glenside Hospital.
In 1987 Professor Goldney went into private practice and continued with his research into suicide.
He was appointed Clinical Professor at the University of Adelaide in 1992 and in 1996 became Professor and Medical Director at The Adelaide Clinic, a leading provider of psychiatric services in South Australia.
Professor Goldney hopes to establish more research opportunities within the Discipline of Psychiatry, focused on clinical work and mental health initiatives.
"We have many well-trained clinicians and I would like to see more research focused on the delivery of mental health services in South Australia," he said.
Story by Candy Gibson