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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described New Zealand’s suicide rate as “a long-term national tragedy” as she, along with Health Minister David Clark, released a suicide prevention strategy and action plan today.

The plan, which will focus primarily on promoting wellbeing, responding to suicidal distress and helping people after a suicide, will be supported by a Suicide Prevention Office to focus on the plan’s “on the ground initiatives”.

The Suicide Prevention Office will be housed and supported by the Ministry of Health initially, with the intention of becoming a stand-alone Office in coming years. It will be led by the Director of Suicide Prevention.

“Change will take time but this plan and the actions the Government has already in place are an important start,” says Ardern.

“There are no easy answers or quick fixes, but the range of actions we are taking will mean better support for people in distress.”

Today’s announcement comes after Ardern and Clark announced more funding for frontline mental health services. 

Ardern also pointed to a range of initiatives already underway to reduce the number of suicides, including:

·            Increasing suicide prevention services in DHBs, including more post-discharge support

·            Supporting tailored Māori and Pacific suicide prevention initiatives

·            Funding to improve support for 15,000 people who turn up at hospital emergency departments experiencing a mental health crisis or at risk of suicide

·            Expanding the information and resources available to family and whānau of those experiencing suicidal distress

·            Funding free counselling for 2,500 people (per year) bereaved by suicide, whom research shows can be vulnerable to suicidal thoughts themselves.

 “We know there is more work to do, and not all the answers will be found in Wellington. So we will continue to work with local communities and people with lived experience as we develop further initiatives and services,” says Ardern.

The Government committed a $1.9 billion investment into mental health and addiction in Budget 2019, including $40 million into suicide prevention.

Health Minister David Clark says today’s announcements deliver on two of the key recommendations of the report of the Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction, He Ara Oranga.

“Strengthening our mental health services and reducing the rate of suicide are long-term challenges, but are key priorities for the Government.

“It will take time to build new services and new facilities and expand and upskill our mental health workforce – but we’re getting on with the job,” says Clark.

The New Zealand Medical Association commends the Government’s announcement. Chair Dr Kate Baddock says she hopes to see the Office established and the Strategy put into action as soon as possible.

“New Zealand’s suicide rate concerns not just the medical profession but all New Zealanders, and we welcome this further signal that the Government is taking mental health seriously and look forward to next steps to reverse our nation’s suicide rate,” she says.

Dr Dougal Sutherland, clinical psychologist, Victoria University of Wellington, describes the strategy and plan as “exciting and optimistic”.

“It’s encouraging to see that the Every Life Matters framework places suicide prevention on a continuum. Up till now efforts have largely been focused on one end of this continuum: intervening in crises and postvention after a death. The new framework acknowledges that if we are to be successful in reducing deaths by suicide in New Zealand we need to start early. Promoting and enhancing wellbeing and resilience in our tamariki, rangatahi, and whānau are not ‘nice-to-haves’. They are crucial if we are to achieve our long-term goal of preventing people getting to a place where they consider suicide as an option.”

Sutherland is also pleased to see acknowledgement that the proposed Suicide Prevention Office will require cross-government coordination and support.

“At present our system silos suicide prevention into the domain of mental health. Yet many of the factors contributing to suicide are much broader: poverty, family violence, a history of abuse and neglect. These are not problems that can be resolved solely by the mental health system. They require input from education, social development, justice, housing etc. The Government has recognised this in their framework for development of a suicide prevention system.”

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