A record 56% of families felt more distressed than normal due to the cost-of-living crisis in the September quarter, according to 1,000 Australians surveyed for the Suicide Prevention Australia Community Tracker.

That marks a rapid increase on the number of families feeling financially distressed in the June quarter and the September quarter of 2022 – both coming out at 40%.

Suicide Prevention Australia CEO Nieves Murray said the findings are a “warning sign”.

“We know that suicide is complex and often linked to many risk factors like personal debt, unemployment, family breakdown, social isolation, and mental health,” she said.

“Feeding the family and keeping a roof over our heads are two of the most basic human needs.”

It’s the fifth quarter in a row that cost-of-living and personal debt were the top causes of anguish for Australian households.

The number of families feeling elevated cost-of-living distress in the September quarter was more than double those feeling distress over housing affordability and access (24%).

Budget measures not enough to prevent widespread distress

More than half of respondents are now under the belief that cost-of-living relief measures included in the Federal Budget, released in May, won’t help their situation.

Another quarter responded that budget measures will make them worse off.

A $14.6 billion of cost-of-living relief package was unveiled as part of the budget.

It included a $40-per-fortnight increase to JobSeeker, Austudy, and Youth Allowance payments and a 15% boost to Rest Assistance, set to be implemented later this month.

The budget-boost, as well as a 2.2% indexation increase, will see JobSeeker climb to $54 a day on 20 September, while Youth Allowance will be lifted to $43 a day.

Such increases won’t be enough to prevent widespread distress, according to the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS).

It recently found nearly three quarters of people on income support payments are eating less, skipping meals, or cutting back on heating and cooling in an effort to save money.

“People relying on woefully low-income support payments have been hit hard by the rising cost of living and are in severe financial distress,” ACOSS deputy CEO Edwina MacDonald said.

“Australia’s income support payments are among the lowest in wealthy nations and do not cover the essentials of life such as rent, energy and food, causing serious harm to those who rely on them.”

The cost-of-living has been driven higher by stubborn inflation and the fastest cash rate hiking spree on record – the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) upped rates a dozen times since mid-2022.

“While interest rates are a matter for the RBA board, we must be prepared and proactive to prevent distress and suicide rates from continuing to rise,” Ms Murray said.

She’s calling for the Federal Government and economic policy makers to implement a whole-of-government response to suicide prevention.

To get help 24/7, phone Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.
If you or someone you know are in immediate danger, phone 000 for emergency services.

Image by Hannah Wei on Unsplash