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Victorian coroner urges support for young people amid increase in suicides

Of the 13 young people who died, nine were male and four were female. (ABC News: Maren Preuss, file photo)

Victoria's state coroner has sounded the alarm over a marked increase in youth suicides during the first three months of this year.

Figures compiled by the Coroners Court show 13 young people aged under 18 took their lives between the beginning of January and the end of March.

A further three suicides among young people have been recorded so far in April.

The number of youth suicides for the same period over the past four years varied between two and six, and the annual number of young people dying by suicide over those four years in full ranged between 15 and 23.

State Coroner John Cain said the increase in youth suicides was of "great concern".

"The drivers of suicide are complex, and we must remember that behind each of these deaths is a unique personal story," he said.

"For each of the families the loss is immeasurable.

"The impact of a young person's suicide on the wider community can also be profound and far-reaching.

"Young people have particularly broad community connections, through their families and friends, schools, sporting clubs and other activities they take part in."

Coroner John Cain has urged parents and friends to support and stay connected with young people who are struggling. (ABC Melbourne: Kristian Silva)

The 13 deaths were of nine boys and four girls, and occurred in diverse circumstances across Melbourne and regional Victoria.

The coroner is investigating the causes of and circumstances surrounding the suicides in order to identify ways of preventing further deaths.

"The health and wellbeing of young Victorians is a community responsibility," Mr Cain said.

"While we work with the state and federal government to provide data that informs targeted suicide prevention programs, I urge parents and friends to help our young people stay connected and supported," Mr Cain said.

The rise in youth suicides comes after a significant rise in the overall number of suicides last year, a development Mr Cain last month described as "very concerning".

There were 756 suicides across Victoria in 2022 — a 9 per cent increase on the previous year, and the most since records began in 2000.

In the first three months of this year, there have been 185 suicides, which is 10 more than the same period last year, but fewer than the 191 suicides for the same period in 2020.

"We didn't see an increase over the pandemic, but what we saw in the last part of last year was a significant increase," Mr Cain said when the figures were released.

"It's never one thing, it's always multi-factorial. It's social isolation, it's mental health, substance abuse, interactions with the legal system, financial pressures.

"There's a mixture of things [and] we'll try and unpack which of those factors were more dominant."

Mr Cain said more investigation was needed before any concrete link to pandemic lockdowns could be determined.

"There was a lot of talk about how difficult it was going into COVID but across a range of different indicators it seems that coming out of COVID and going back to whatever normal looks like again is equally tough if not tougher," he said.

"Perhaps what we’re seeing in these numbers is evidence of that.

"You cannot simplify it, it’s way more complex than that and that’s why you need to have the conversation and you need to look into all the contributing factors."

Coronial investigations will probe the circumstances of each death. (ABC News: Patrick Rocca)

Psychiatrist Patrick McGorry, a professor of youth mental health, said the data was the tip of a much bigger iceberg.

"The trend will continue because there's a rising tide of mental ill health in young people and at the same time, our ability to respond to it is greatly hampered," he said.

He said progress was being made to address mental health issues among young people, but not quickly enough.

"With the royal commission and with [the] federal government's good track record previously on youth mental health, we are in a good position to deal with this," he said.

"But it really needs to be moved up the priority list substantially. It's sort of on the backburner a little bit at the moment."

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