9 Sep 2015

Suicide prevention focus of new DHB plans

5:15 pm on 9 September 2015

A Nelson woman, whose husband took his own life, is welcoming a government push to improve the way health boards tackle suicide.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said today health boards nationwide have plans in place to help them, in partnership with their local communities, prevent and respond to suicide.

City councillor Gaile Noonan said anything that increased discussion about what she said was a hidden epidemic, was a step in the right direction.


A Nelson woman describes suicide as a hidden epidemic. Photo: 123RF

Dr Coleman said all DHBs had been working with community organisations, iwi and health professionals to review the needs of communities and services currently being provided. He said they had suicide prevention plans in place for the next two years.

"Reducing suicide rates requires coordinated action at a national and local level. DHBs are well placed to bring community groups together to coordinate and lead an approach that best meets local needs," Dr Coleman said.

Tomorrow is World Suicide Prevention Day and the theme this year is Reaching out and Saving Lives.

Dr Coleman said about 500 New Zealanders took their own lives every year, and while there was some evidence that the number had dropped over time, the rates remained too high, particularly for young people and Maori.

Mrs Noonan said conversations and information about suicide would have been a huge help to her nine years ago when her husband, Peter Noonan, took his own life.

She said more people died each year through suicide than in road accidents.

"Anything that brings conversation is really helpful, but the bit that's missing is the families who are left.

"Looking back if there had been more education and discussion I think there'd have been more proactive information for families and I think that's where the gap is. It's better now than nine years ago, but there's still a long way to go."

Need to talk

Mrs Noonan said when it happened to her and her children, suicide was fairly unknown to her.

"Just knowing that these things happen would have made it easier.

"Because it's not talked about much, you think there are fewer people who suicide than actually do, and that's not right.

"A lot do and a lot try. It's just so sad because they're good people going through a moment in time, struggling with day-to-day living. I think if we're all more supportive of mental health issues we could make a difference, but because we're not talking about it, we're losing people."

Mrs Noonan, who has spoken publicly about suicide, said she would be happy to play a bigger role in the community on suicide prevention and recognising the danger signals.

"I should have a husband here and he's not, because he had a moment in time and he made a choice. Had he been well, it wouldn't have happened, but I relied on the fact people don't do it, but people do and there are people out there struggling all the time. It's not unusual - it's a sad situation.

"The thing is, for the people left it's a struggle and it's hard to get your life back together because it's such a shock."

All DHBs are now providing suicide awareness and prevention training for people with influence in communities, such as teachers, ministers, and local leaders.

Dr Coleman said DHBs would provide progress reports on the implementation of their suicide prevention plans to the Ministry of Health every six months.