By: Chris Reed
WARNING: This article is about suicide and may be distressing for some readers.
In an interview to mark World Suicide Prevention Day today, Health Minister David Clark defended his record on mental health, saying the Government had already announced several policies that were “no brainers”, with more to come.
He spoke of his continuing confidence that the Government’s Inquiry into Mental Health and Addictions would deliver robust and challenging recommendations to shape policy for a decade or more.
But he tempered that by saying some items may not be funded until next year’s Budget, eight months away.
New Zealand’s latest annual provisional suicide statistics from the Chief Coroner show 668 people died in the year to June 30.
Our suicide rate – the number of deaths per 100,000 people – is at the highest level since provisional statistics were first recorded, for the 2007/08 year, and rose for the fourth year in a row.
Clark said the figures were “upsetting … sobering and cause for further reflection”.
“But the main lesson I draw is that it underscores the importance of the direction we’ve taken in confronting this issue by putting the independent inquiry in place, by getting on with the things that we can do already and know that work, and by preparing to look at the recommendations of that inquiry panel.”
The panel is due to report by the end of October. Clark said the “short and sharp” time frame would mean they’d go to the wire, but he remained confident they’d meet their deadline.
He would likely spend weeks considering their recommendations before taking his conclusions to Cabinet.
“Agencies need to be consulted and you always want to make sure there are no unintended consequences of any action. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity and we’ll tread carefully but without any unnecessary delay.”
After that the 2019 Budget – working title ‘the Wellbeing Budget’ – would come into play.
“I don’t anticipate that everything they recommend will involve money but some things inevitably will.”
Some have accused the Government and its agencies of putting change on hold pending the outcome of the inquiry.
Clark said that was a political comment.
“We’ve gone with those things that we just thought were no-brainers, if I can put it that bluntly, in the mental health space that were ready to go that have good evidence behind them.
“I’ve copped some criticism for getting on with those things and not waiting for the inquiry to come back and then from others trying to say we’re not doing enough because we’re waiting for the inquiry.
“Frankly I don’t think either criticism stands up. We’ve done what logically can be done and the public will rightly expect a response from a significant independent inquiry we’ve launched so there will be more to come.”
New initiatives already announced include more beds in Auckland for drug and alcohol detox; pay rises for 5000 mental health and addiction support workers; a mental health unit at the new high-security Waikeria prison; a secure facility for the highest need intellectual disability and mental health patients; and a trial providing free counselling for 18 to 25-year-olds, a policy included in the Government’s confidence and supply agreement with the Green Party.
Clark, who kept the mental health portfolio for himself (it is usually held by an associate minister) remains keen to consider an aspirational national goal of zero suicides.
The inquiry was promised in the Government’s 100-day plan. A longer-term policy was reviving the Mental Health Commission, disestablished in 2012.
On releasing the provisional statistics last month, Chief Coroner Judge Deborah Marshall said it was a tragedy to see the number of suicides rise again.
“We need to keep talking about how to recognise the signs that someone may want to take their own life. If someone expresses thoughts and feelings about suicide, take them seriously.”
World Suicide Prevention Day is an initiative of the International Association for Suicide Prevention, a non-governmental organisation based in Washington DC with members in 50 countries.
WHERE TO GET HELP:
If you are worried about your or someone else’s mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.
OR IF YOU NEED TO TALK TO SOMEONE ELSE:
• DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757
• KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• LIFELINE: 0800 543 354 or 09 5222 999 within Auckland (24/7)
• NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (24/7)
• SAMARITANS – 0800 726 666
• SUICIDE CRISIS HELPLINE: 0508 828 865 (24/7)
• WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
There are lots of places to get support. For others, click here.