SUICIDES in Victoria are at a five-year high, with 686 deaths recorded so far this year.

The toll is from January 1 to November 30, so does not include any suicides over the Christmas period. It compares with 638 deaths last year in the same period, 637 in 2020, 634 in 2019 and 635 in 2018.

The rise in deaths comes as the federal government slashes the number of subsidised mental health sessions available to people seeking help by half from January 1, in a move that has been widely condemned by psychologists and doctors.

Despite fears Victoria’s harsh Covid-19 lockdowns would lead to suicide surges, the latest Coroner’s Court data reveals more people have died this year than during the worst of the pandemic, with psychologists pointing to rising cost-of-living pressures and natural disasters as possible contributing factors.

The figures – released this month – show 512 Victorian males have died by suicide so far this year, compared to 474 last year and in 2020.

A total of 174 females have taken their own lives, up from 164 in 2021 and 163 in 2020. The highest proportion of suicides were males in the 45 to 54-year-old age group, with 109 deaths – up from 89 last year.

Female suicides in the same age bracket almost doubled, rising from 23 last year to 37 this year.

The report shows 66 per cent of deaths were in metropolitan Melbourne.

But while a smaller 34 per cent of suicides took place in regional Victoria, the Ballarat community has been rocked by a spate of sudden deaths this year, including at least five teenagers.

The tragic deaths included that of talented sportsman and St Patrick’s College student Rohan Cosgriff, 17, who took his own life in late July; apprentice Nick Watts, 16, who died in August; and his girlfriend, Bridie Cocks, 15, who died just weeks later.

Psychologists are calling on the Albanese government to urgently reverse its decision to cut subsidised mental health sessions from 20 to 10.

“Given the devastating impact of the pandemic, regular natural disasters, increasing levels of mental ill health and unprecedented demand, this decision is denying people the level of mental health care that they so desperately need,” Australian Association of Psychologists executive director said.

Australian Psychological Society president Catriona Davis-McCabe said rationing subsidised sessions was like limiting essential drugs.

“Removing a key affordability measure as people struggle with the cost of Christmas and the sharply rising cost of living will be too much for too many,” she said.

Health Minister Mark Butler has defended the cuts, saying a review found the funding boost for subsidised sessions during Covid-19 had caused waitlists to balloon and reduced access for new patients.

Need support? Call THESE NUMBERS:

Lifeline: 13 11 14 or lifeline.org.au

Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636 or beyondblue.org.au

Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800 or kidshelpline.com.au

Headspace: 1800 650 890 or headspace.org.au