2 Jun 2016

Suicides come after people slip through cracks - study

9:26 am on 2 June 2016

Many people who took their own lives did not get the right help or slipped through the cracks of multiple government agencies, the first ever government review of suicide deaths found.

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Photo: 123rf.com

The review - which was undertaken by an advisory committee to the Health Quality & Safety Commission - also looked at how to reduce the record number of suicide deaths in New Zealand.

The Suicide Mortality Review Committe said it would like $700,000 a year to set up a permanent body to analyse all suicide data.

Its feasibility study looked at the 1797 suicides between 2007 and 2011 and examined three groups with very high suicide rates: young Māori, mental health clients and working-aged men.


Committee chairperson Dr Robert Kydd said some of the findings were surprising.

For example, the survey sample showed that at 6.9 percent, the suicide rate among men working in the construction and trade industry was slightly higher than the 6.8 percent rate for working in farming or forestry.

It was not known why that was the case, but it should be investigated, he said.

"It's been something that has been identified in other jurisdictions and it's something that might be useful to try and look at," Dr Kydd said.

Mental Health Foundation programme director Moira Clunie said the high suicide rate amongst construction workers was recognised across the Tasman.

"In Australia there's a programme called Mates In Construction which works within the industry and is integrated within the health and safety systems on construction sites."

This encouraged construction workers to look out for each other, she said.

Another significant finding in the study was that many of the people who committed suicide were known to a number of government agencies.

About 40 percent had come to the attention of the police in the decade before their death. Half had committed an offence in the year before.

Among young Māori, 40 percent had contact with Child Youth and Family, and 12 percent had been in its care at some point in their lives.

The Police, Corrections, and social and health services often had significant involvement with suicide victims at various points in their lives and frontline staff need more training and agencies must work more closely together, said Dr Kydd.

"There is an inter-agency suicide group which is set up to look at things but they've all got quite large workloads and we would hope that a committee like ours, or something similar, could help to pull that alltogether."

Hastings District Counciller Henare O'Keefe was an ambassador for the suicide prevention Yellow Ribbon Trust before it shut down 10 years ago, after government funding dried up.

He called for community action after a coronial inquest found four Flaxmere teen girls, who took their own lives between 2013 and 2014, all came from families characterised by domestic violence and abuse.

Agencies were failing to work together because they mistrusted one another and there was a lack of political willingness to share resources, he said.

Mortality review committees had already been established to review surgical, mother and baby, and child and young person deaths and had all helped to reduce preventable deaths.

Dr Kydd said a permanent suicide review committee was needed to find out more about why people took their own lives and that information could be used to prevent future deaths.

The Minister of Health said the feasibility study and all its recommendations were under consideration.

Where to get help:

Lifeline - 0800 543 354

Depression Helpline (8 am to 12 midnight) - 0800 111 757

Healthline - 0800 611 116

Samaritans - 0800 726 666 (for callers from the Lower North Island, Christchurch and West Coast) or 0800 211 211 / (04) 473 9739 (for callers from all other regions)

Suicide Crisis Helpline (aimed at those in distress, or those who are concerned about the wellbeing of someone else) - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)

Youthline - 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email talk@youthline.co.nz

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