11 Sep 2017

'Our people are dying': Families call for better mental health care

6:34 pm on 11 September 2017

The National and ACT parties have received a frosty reception at a meeting with families of suicide victims after both sending last-minute representatives.

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National's Chris Finlayson told those at the meeting National did not support holding an inquiry into mental health. Photo: rnz

The forum in Wellington was organised by the suicide awareness group YesWeCare and was backed by more than 200 bereaved families.

Neither National nor ACT responded to their invitation, but after questions from the media on Monday morning, both sent along spokespeople.

National's Chris Finlayson told RNZ News the initial no-show was due to an administrative "mess up" and he was delighted to attend.

"It was a very powerful - indeed overwhelming - session. How I got here is a matter of bureaucracy of third level importance."

He denied National had stayed away because it was worried about getting a rough time, saying he was used to "frigid receptions" from time to time.

The families are calling for an inquiry into New Zealand's mental health crisis; they want more health funding and a national suicide reduction target.

Labour, the Greens, New Zealand First, the Māori Party and United Future have all commited to the families' goals, as have TOP and the Internet Party.

But Mr Finlayson told the meeting National did not support holding an inquiry into mental health.

"The government would be concerned that an overarching inquiry could be slow and cumbersome.

"There are many matters than need to be looked at and the government wants to looks at them now."

A family member responded, saying National's approach wasn't working.

"Our people are dying," she said.

Another audience member, a teenage suicide survivor, also objected to Mr Finlayson's comments.

"Do you think I'm stupid?" she said. "I can see right through your bulls**t, mate. I'm not falling for it. I can't even vote. I'm a kid. I see right through it."

ACT candidate Grae O'Sullivan said he could not back an inquiry without first checking with his party leader David Seymour.

He told the families he would consult with the ACT party and come back to them later with an official position.

Mr O'Sullivan also faced criticism for looking at his phone while family members spoke at the meeting.

In a later email to RNZ, Mr O'Sullivan apologised for the bad look, but said he had been taking notes about what the families were saying so he could respond.

He also said he had travelled from Martinborough to the meeting after discovering ACT did not having anyone attending, because he thought it was "important to listen to the concerns of the families".

One by one, the family members shared their harrowing stories of loss in front of 606 pairs of shoes representing the New Zealanders who killed themselves in the past year.

Suzy Taylor referenced the display as she spoke of the death of her 19-year-old daughter Georgia.

"I don't believe that these 606 souls - one of them my daughter - wanted to intrinsically die. They just wanted to get out of pain."

She supported Labour's promise to put a mental health nurse in every secondary school.

"We need money and a plan - and the plan this time has to come from the ground up."

Eighteen-year-old student Jamie Lynn lost her 32-year-old brother-in-law Philip Shanks to suicide in April.

"I can't get my head around how people have to attempt to hurt themselves first to get emergency care.

"This government needs to do something, otherwise we're going to lose more lives to suicide."

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