A SUICIDE prevention specialist will work with Casey schools, community organisations and counsellors to help them tackle a spate of youth suicides in the area.
State Mental Health Minister Mary Wooldridge announced funding of $150,000 for the 12-month appointment last week at a forum convened by a Casey youth suicide steering committee.
More than 100 community leaders — MPs, councillors, principals, mental health experts, counsellors and researchers — met at Monash University's Berwick campus to hear how they could help young people survive adolescence.
The steering committee was set up in January in response to concerns by parents, teachers and young people after a cluster of suicides in Berwick, Beaconsfield and Narre Warren.
The committee includes representatives from the Coroner's Office, Victoria Police, Melbourne University, Casey Council, Southern Health and the Department of Health.
It has already developed several initiatives to help parents and schools address the issue, including a youth mental health resource kit that will be distributed to local schools and community groups.
The committee is also liaising with Melbourne University for research into youth suicide, the role of social media and the best responses to suicide clusters.
At the forum, Inspector Wayne Viney of Casey police appealed to Mrs Wooldridge for the government to take a more strategic and co-ordinated approach to youth mental health throughout Victoria.
"People need to be very clear about what services are available to our young people."
Headspace suicide prevention expert Jo Robinson told the forum one of the biggest risk factors in youth suicide was suicide-related behaviour in others, especially in school circles but also by celebrities.
She said sensationalist media reporting of suicide could increase risks but the role of social media — "where everyone is a journalist" — was not yet clear. "Our young people are talking about suicide whether we think it's healthy or not."
She said parents and teachers needed to be vigilant about changes in behaviour and mood that could indicate a young person was depressed or suicidal.
"There are a whole lot of things to look out for but the simplest way is to ask them.
"Our studies found that asking students in a safe and sensible way if they were suicidal did not cause distress or induce suicidal thoughts or feelings.
"If they are suicidal, it gives them a language to use to talk about it."
Copies of the youth mental health resources kit are available from Casey Council's youth services department on 9705 5200.