Friday, December 1, 2023

Suicide strategy divides leaders

Avatar photo
The Government will set up an office dedicated to reducing suicide rates as it tries to tackle worsening statistics.
Reading Time: 4 minutes

But primary industry leaders share the disappointment of many in the rural sector there is no specific rural suicide prevention strategy.

The long-awaited strategy and action plan, Every Life Matters, is an outcome of the recommendations from a sweeping inquiry into the state of the country’s mental health services.

Key changes include moving from a largely mental health service-based response to a community-based approach and supporting people bereaved by suicide.

Federated Farmers rural health spokesman Andrew Maclean is concerned the strategy won’t drive change in rural communities.

“Urban issues take the bulk of attention purely by volume and numbers but we need more specifics on rural.

“We tend to be the poor cousin,” he said.

The plan aims to find and address gaps in suicide prevention information, support for the bereaved and progress a national research plan, review the coronal investigative process and implement a free national suicide bereaved counselling service.

It also aims to increase wellbeing support for children and young people in places of learning, work with Maori and people with experience of suicidal behaviour to develop national guidelines for managing suicide risk to be used by health boards and other organisations.

Joint funding options to enable better cross-government co-ordination and support for community participation in preventing suicide will be explored.

Last month it was revealed New Zealand’s suicide rate hit the highest level since records began with 665 deaths in the year to June.

Suicide rates are higher in rural areas at 16 per 100,000 people compared with 11.2 in cities, Statistics NZ says.

The action plan and strategy recognises rural communities as a group needing specific interventions but how some of that will be done still has to be determined. The Government did not provide a time line for that work.

The big gap is in rural, community-based activities, Maclean said.

“We’ve seen the dispersal of rural communities for a whole range of reasons and quite a bit of depopulation, which has resulted in the withdrawal of services, outlets, rural churches even.” 

That tyranny of distance means access to any kind of services, including wellbeing and mental health, is more difficult.

Health training hubs in far-flung towns, which Health Minister David Clark gave his express support for at the GP Network conference in April, which surprised some, should be tapped into, Maclean said. 

“If you’ve already got activity going on that has a certain amount of infrastructure and support let’s see what we can build around that.”

“We have a poor track record of duplicating existing services and activities,” he said. 

“Better communication between agencies, good leadership and building better events and promoting them would go a long way in making it much lighter in the end in terms of overall expenditure and resources.”

Rural Support Trust and FarmStrong are examples of industry organisations leading the way.

“Whether it’s at community halls or schools we need to bring people together off the farm to take time out to help prevent mental health issues.

“There’s a lot of talk from the Government of the rural lens being run over things but if you look at some recent legislation it looks like there’s been an oversight in doing that.”

Farmer and mental health advocate Doug Avery said the plan is a service delivery stepping stone.

There are a series of other blocks that need to be put in place, such as positive attitude change, Avery, whose The Resilient Farmer biography tells of his descent into despair during the Marlborough droughts of the 1990s and his journey back to hope, said.

He insists money cannot fix the problem when disconnection is the issue.

“You can have the best mental health system in the world but be too scared to open up and talk about it. It’s pointless.

“Most of the people I work with have more money in the world than you care to imagine but most of them have no way to manage the problems that have come across their desk – for instance, relationships or just absolutely stressed out with their work.”

The messaging has to shift from urging people to reach out. It also has to ask what is being done to make it okay for people to ask for help, he said.

“We also need services that are creating more resilient mind patterns so people have their own self toolkit to recognise the signs of trouble and to understand how to deal with it.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said change will take time but the announcement is an important start.

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

“I firmly believe the Suicide Prevention Strategy and Action Plan set us on a path towards fewer deaths from suicide. And the Suicide Prevention Office will provide strong leadership and monitor progress in delivering on the plan,” Clark said.

“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.”

“We congratulate the Government on a strong, innovative strategy that envisions a future where the devastating impact of suicide is no longer felt in Aotearoa,” Mental Health Foundation chief executive Shaun Robinson said.

“Most New Zealanders are aware of the devastation suicide is causing in our communities. 

“But it is preventable and this new strategy gives us the road map and tools we need to prevent it.”

The foundation is dissatisfied there is no specific Maori suicide prevention strategy but acknowledges the strategy strengthens the Government’s commitment to Maori and has a focus on reducing inequalities.

Earlier this month, the Government said it is boosting funding of more than 20 existing underfunded mental health services.

It is also allocating $30 million to create new front-line services that will start operating early next year.

The investment is part of the $455m the Government set aside for front-line mental health services in this year’s Budget.


1737, Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 to talk to a trained counsellor

Rural Support Trust, 0800 787 254

Lifeline, 0800 543 354 

Youthline, 0800 376 633, text 234, email or online chat

Samaritans, 0800 726 666

Depression Helpline, 0800 111 757

Suicide Crisis Helpline, 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)

In a life-threatening situation, call 111

People are also reading